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Measuring the gap between Obama's dreams and reality

A presidential inauguration address is not scribbled on the back of an envelope.

The West Wing drama got that much right. Policy-makers, strategists and speechmakers spend long hours poring over drafts of the text. Come the day, nothing will be said in error.

If Barack Obama decides to come out fighting at the start of his second term, therefore, it is not a moment's fancy. Those speech- writing teams have toiled, first and foremost, to achieve a tone. Since the President is no mean writer, and must have the final say, we can take him at his word. At every word.

His second address said one thing above all: look who won. The Republican myth of an aberrant presidency was nailed. By winning twice, Mr Obama achieved a mandate that could not be disputed. Hence the invocations of the quintessential American phrase, "We the People". Who contests their will?

Amid a long list of causes yet unwon, Mr Obama said something else. Anyone who imagined that he had been altered by power, that he had lost his fire or surrendered to expediency, was mistaken. His beliefs, progressive or "liberal", according to taste, remained intact.

It was a good speech. Its brevity, at just 19 minutes, was itself meant to convey the business-like style of a man in a hurry. Its hard-won tone had hints of impatience, sometimes of anger, amid the usual appeals to patriotism. Anyone dismayed by self-serving Republicanism was liable to be inspired. Mr Obama wasn't messing around.

But then this viewer, thousands of miles from Washington, could only pause. Sometimes it pays to be wary of inspirational figures. Didn't Mr Obama arouse passions four years ago? Didn't he send half the planet into paroxysms of hope? Then what happened? A President with his very own "kill list" for drone handlers.

There was a lot in this year's speech. That, too, is something to wonder about. Consider only what Mr Obama failed to achieve in his first four years, particularly in his struggles over health care and his refusal to deal with the pirates of Wall Street. His ambitions for a second term are monumental, which is to say implausible. What you want to believe is not the same as what is believable.

Little was omitted from the address. Gun control, the environment, gay rights, taxes and wealth, health care costs, immigration, voting reform, education, America's vast debts and deficits, an end to foreign wars: here were answers to every progressive prayer.

He has his mandate: so much is obvious. But all those conservatives in the House of Representatives, fundamentalist Tea Party folk among them, were also elected. If they stick to their guns, so to speak, the Congress will once again be gridlocked.

These tribunes don't just oppose their President; many hate him. Why would they help "the socialist" to achieve his liberal dreams when he insults their very principles? He wants to take away their guns, curtail their economic "freedom", and tolerate the sin of sodomy. Besides, he and his minorities have humiliated them for a second time.

Unless Mr Obama is truly the kind of hypocrite who is capable of giving utterly insincere speeches to order, he must have a strategy. It was implicit, I think, in the structure and tone of his address. After inviting Republicans to remember who won, he gave the smarter ones the chance to add a question: why?

Many American conservatives truly believed that Mitt Romney's chances were better than evens. Until the last days of the campaign, reputable polling organisations agreed. Those on the right who are not lost to reason and attempt to answer Mr Obama's question can draw only one conclusion. America has changed in ways they have failed – or refused – to understand.

The Latino election vote provided an example. Those Americans came out for Mr Obama by a margin, roughly, of three to one. Some on the right still find this perplexing. Aren't Latinos mostly conservative, God-fearing people who want their share of the American dream?

No doubt. But they are also people liable to object to the near-overt racism of Mr Rommney's immigration policy. Latinos define themselves as a community. An attack on one, perhaps dismissed as illegal or undesirable, is an attack on all.

Why would gay people vote in any number for the Republicans? Why would black Americans suffer the presumption of rich, white Mr Romney when their economic distress is, as usual, worse than the average?

Conservatives might even be in error over gun control. It is perfectly true that the number of firearms continues to increase. Simultaneously, the actual number of people owning the things is in decline. The disparity is explained by the fact those who love their guns feel a need for two, three and more weapons.

No party can aspire to government if it fails to represent, or at least pretend to represent, the country. Republicans obsessed with abortion have been beaten back, time and again, by the majority of American women who refuse to surrender their Roe v Wade rights. Still no Republican candidate can afford to endorse those rights. The party has been captured by its fundamentalists.

You don't have to question Mr Obama's sincerity to see he grasps the extent of change. The first black American President is liable to have a couple of insights on that score. Whether he is also capable of understanding entrenched vested interests is another matter.

In his first term he failed to deal with Wall Street, despite having the vast majority of Americans at his back. He toiled to achieve minimal health care reform because he underestimated the insurance industry and its backers. If he is serious about gun control, he had better grasp what the National Rifle Association represents. It's not the duck hunters of America. It is those who see government as an obstacle to unfettered self-interest.

The tone of his address was meant to suggest Mr Obama gets it, finally. It was meant to show there are limits to consensus if Republicans prefer bad faith. But if the hopes in his long list are to achieve reality, he needs his strategy to work. Ironically, he needs his opponents to match his understanding of a changing country.

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