Barack Obama is feeling his mojo.
He's never sounded more like himself than he did Monday; and he's never looked more presidential.
It wasn't the graying hair around his temples or the seasoned confidence of a president entering his second term, although those things helped. It was the words of his speech. They fit him like a Savile Row dinner jacket.
Make no mistake about it, our 44th president has found his ideological groove.
For liberals in this country that's a wonderful thing. And I couldn't help feeling happy for friends of that persuasion as I watched the president's 20-minute address, held outside the Capitol Building on a cold, crisp Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Because this is the speech they've waited for -- the one they've felt cheated out of -- since two Kennedys and a King were felled by bullets two generations ago. This was progressivism on proud display, coming from a man with the power to deliver it.
This Barack Obama is believable, too. The one who remained silent on guns, opposed gay marriage and punted on the illegal immigration issue was phony. This Obama is better -- for liberals, conservatives and everyone in between. We now have a president in the Oval Office with a clear and consistent vision, whether we like that vision or not.
But even as the president was planting the flag of progressivism on the Capitol steps, he was ensuring the rebound of conservatism in America.
It was made clear when he touched -- ever so briefly -- on reform of our entitlement programs, which are on a certain path to bankruptcy. "We reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future," he said.
In other words, don't expect entitlement reform from me.
In that moment, Obama made it clear that tackling federal debt will not be a priority of his presidency; that mess will be left to successors. History may not forgive him for that.
If current spending estimates are correct, this president will double our national debt in eight short years, from $10 to $20 trillion. That debt -- a quarter of which will be on the head of President George W. Bush -- may critically hamper job growth and the economic competitiveness of this and future generations. It may also doom the very social safety net for which so many American liberals cheered yesterday.
Liberals in America almost realized this moment when they elected Bill Clinton to office. But then he "triangulated" (remember that word?), stealing the Republican's fiscal reform mantle right from under their feet. Where Obama is showing himself a dreamer, Clinton proved to be a clever pragmatist. Pressed by a Republican Congress, he took care of the economic business at hand and balanced a budget for the first time in years.
That became Clinton's enduring legacy, and it swayed millions of socially liberal Republicans to enroll as Democrats, which they remain today. Clinton showed them that a Democrat could be fiscally responsible.
If Obama the Dreamer pursues the promises he made yesterday -- while ignoring the fiscal realities of our time -- he may fulfill many people's dreams, including those of a lot of Republicans.
William F. B. O'Reilly is a Newsday columnist and a Republican political consultant.