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The Riggs Report: President Obama’s long goodbye

This week’s presidential address a prelude to the 2016 campaign

It’s inevitable. As President Obama enters his final two years in office, attention will turn to questions of his legacy, and more importantly, to the budding contest to determine who will succeed him in the White House.

This week’s State of the Union address served to accelerate that shift. Although the president noted the obvious — that he had no more campaigns to run — his remarks seemed designed to set the stage for the 2016 campaign.

By focusing on the theme of middle class economics, including goals such as no-tuition community colleges, middle class tax cuts, expanded family leave and affordable child care, Mr. Obama was talking not just about his own agenda, but framing the direction and debate for the next election cycle.

The president talked about moving beyond the usual partisan strife that grips Washington. But make no mistake. He wasn’t really talking about collaboration. He knows there is little chance that Congress will pass his proposals as described. He made no mention of the just-concluded election that the Democrats lost.

Mr. Obama was talking instead about moving his agenda, essentially daring the new Republican majority in the House and Senate to reject the efforts he described to boost the middle class. That would include his proposal to raise taxes on the very wealthy to help pay for those efforts.

What happens with those proposals will shape the narrative as more and more attention turns to the upcoming list of presidential hopefuls and their still-developing campaigns.

It’s not just about 2016, of course. His aggressive approach also reflects the White House belief that it’s the best path Mr. Obama can take to be relevant in the dwindling time he has left in the national spotlight. He no doubt has been encouraged by recent polls that have shown a boost in his job approval ratings. It’s why he warned the Republicans that he would not hesitate to use his veto powers if, for example, there are efforts to roll back or dismantle his health care reform plan.

But media coverage will quickly ramp up later this year on the jockeying between candidates and would-be candidates for the coming vacancy at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. In view of that, President Obama’s address this week marks the beginning of a long goodbye.