Many other Democrats have moved much farther left. Obama's final State of the Union showed that he's not willing to follow them all the way there.
In 2010, six months after the recession had ended officially, Obama was still sorting through its wreckage and just beginning to look ahead. He was pushing Congress to pass new regulations on the financial sector and a sweeping expansion of health coverage for the uninsured. He'd already won a big stimulus bill the previous year, and his round-two plans to boost job growth were modest by comparison: mostly a package of tax breaks for small businesses, plus some incentives for investment and job creation in America.
He devoted several paragraphs to plans for reducing the federal budget deficit.
He sang the praises of freer trade and set a goal of doubling exports. He offered a few ideas for reducing college costs, including a tuition tax credit and some steps to make student loans cheaper. He had an infrastructure plan.
Obama offered an infrastructure plan on Tuesday night, too. He always has an infrastructure plan. You get the feeling that if Obama somehow served five terms, he'd still be asking Congress every year to fix roads and bridges.
There were a few other echoes of his 2010 speech. He still praised trade, asking Congress to approve the Trans Pacific Partnership. He still talked about jobs and deficits, but in both cases, he was bragging at the progress the country has made in recent years. He still talked about the need to fix the stubborn trend of middle-class stagnation that has bedeviled the country for decades, his presidency included.
On so much else, he sounded a changed man. The president who warned in 2010 that Germany, China and India "aren't playing for second place" in the global economy now crowed "The United States of America, right now, has the strongest, most durable economy in the world." He took only a passing swipe at Wall Street, to remind his audience that bankers, not poor people, caused the recession.
The relatively slim list of new economic plans he offered included items that weren't close to the top of his 2010 agenda, including universal preschool, two years of free community college for everyone and a system of wage insurance to boost workers who lose a job and are forced to take a new one that pays less. He mentioned guaranteed paid leave for workers and raising the minimum wage, two issues that never came up in his 2010 speech.
Here's what he didn't say: That America needs a second wave of major Wall Street regulations to bring the financial sector to heel. That his signature health care law is just a stepping stone to the broader goal of single-payer healthcare. That the minimum wage should be $15 an hour nationally. That the rich should be paying substantially higher taxes. That Social Security should be made more generous. That his new trade deal is bad for workers. That the rules of the American economy have become so rigged in favor of the rich and the powerful that they must be radically rewritten.
These are core proposals of the newly energized populist wing of the Democratic Party, led in the Senate by Elizabeth Warren and in the presidential field by Bernie Sanders. Obama nodded at them, but he mostly stopped short of endorsing them. For all his economic evolution in recent years - particularly his increased focus on inequality and his disengagement from deficit-reduction - the president has not moved as far as his liberal base.
The leading Democratic candidate to replace Obama, Hillary Clinton, has moved similarly; the former 2008 rivals have both adopted the language and policy proposals of their onetime opponent John Edwards. Obama has run out of time to move further. The question for Clinton is how far she might keep moving. If she gives a State of the Union in two years, will she sound more like Obama did Tuesday? Or like Sanders on the campaign trail?