President Barack Obama appealed for "one nation and one people" in his second inaugural address. Any notion that the country's bitter partisanship might fade, however, seemed tempered by the president's newly assertive push of central Democratic tenets: safety-net programs for the poor, equal rights for gays and minorities and government spending on investments like schools and highways.
Deficit spending, the president's biggest conflict with Republicans, got only one passing mention. And he never uttered the word "debt."
Never fear, Republicans seemed to say in response. They will press the overspending issue time and again, starting this week in the GOP-controlled House. And the outcome of the two parties' long-running conflict will help shape the government's role in coming years, not to mention Obama's legacy.
All presidents want to drive the national agenda. Inauguration Day is their moment to lay out their visions. As Obama rudely learned in his first term, however, unforeseen events quickly intervene, and a president's fate is to adjust, improvise and re-order priorities.
After winning his first election with a call for greater unity and cooperation in Washington, Obama appeared to be taken aback by the ferocity of Republican resistance. It gave birth to the tea party in 2009, forced him to pass "Obamacare" without a single GOP vote, and fueled huge Democratic setbacks in the 2010 congressional elections.
Last November's election chastened Republicans a bit. But they still adamantly oppose the president's tax-and-spend policies. That poses the central challenge to his hopes for an ambitious second-term agenda.
Obama's re-election as the nation's first black president deepens his place in history. But his handling of a hostile U.S. House, as one "fiscal cliff" gives way to the next, will help determine the luster of his legacy.