WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama’s second inaugural address, delivered on a crisp, overcast day at the nation’s capital, was an unapologetic one.

The president, who has spent the first four years navigating Washington as much as shaping it, used his platform on Monday to announce that his next four years will be marked by a more assertive approach. The speech wasn't devoid of the classic, Obama-esque ideal that the country itself, and the two political parties in particular, must come together for the common good. But the appeal he made wasn’t so much to the good nature of each individual lawmaker as it was to the need to confront the severity of the issues at hand.

The president talked about protecting entitlement programs upon which the elderly and the most vulnerable in society depend.

“They do not make us a nation of takers,” he declared, in a clear rebuke to the conservative House Republicans that have been his bête noire. “They free us to take the risks that make this country great.

But Obama also gave a nod to items further down on the conventional list of top priorities: climate change and election reform included.

The underlying theme was altogether consistent: it is time for the country's reasonable majority to wrest back the agenda.

For now decisions are upon us, and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate. We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect. We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial, and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years, and forty years, and four hundred years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.

What the administration now confronts is the issue of legacy. The accomplishments of the first term have given Obama an already exalted status among his base. But inside the White House, there is a tangible sense of hope (and, perhaps, a bit of trepidation) about what’s to come. Immigration reform, the ending of the war in Afghanistan, the protection of gay rights, the passage of gun laws, the execution of health care and banking reform, and the revamping of the tax code and social safety net are all on the docket. The means of addressing them is the great unknown.

What Monday’s speech did, more than anything else, is provide a window into those means. This isn’t the same Obama who, upon coming into office amid an economic crisis, called for an end to the politics of division. It was a more jaded, ostensibly realistic Obama, demanding that divided politics no longer be used as an excuse for inaction and promising to not accept such a cynical status quo.

What makes us exceptional -- what makes us American -- is our allegiance to an idea, articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Today we continue a never-ending journey, to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they have never been self-executing.

The president’s supporters and even casual defenders will, undoubtedly, cheer this second inaugural address in a way that they never fully did the first -- a lofty, historic but somewhat unmemorable speech. His critics will take it as affirmation of a liberal agenda that they’ve often warned is coming once the burdens of reelection are gone.

Those reactions are predictable and, ultimately, disposable. What matters more is the extent to which the president acts upon the vision he outlined. The second inaugural address showcased an unapologetic president. Time will tell if Monday was just a few lines in a speech or a new, dedicated mindset for the nation's leader.

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  • Mr. President

    U.S. President Barack Obama waves as the presidential inaugural parade winds through the nation's capital January 21, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

  • Mr. Vice President

    U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Dr. Jill Biden walk along Pennsylvania Avenue during the parade following Obama's second inauguration as the 44th U.S. president on January 21, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)

  • The First Couple

    President and Michelle Obama wave to onlookers as the presidential inaugural parade winds through the nation's capital January 21, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

  • Right In Our Backyard

    U.S. President Barack Obama and First lady Michelle Obama walk past the reviewing stand as the presidential inaugural parade winds through the nation's capital January 21, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

  • Parade Pandemonium

    U.S. President Barack Obama drives down Pennsylvania avenue in his vehicle during the Inauguration Parade on January 21, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

  • Secret Service Security

    A U.S. Secret Service vehicle escorts President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama's motorcade during the inauguration parade on January 21, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

  • Obama's Wheels

    WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 21: U.S. President Barack Obama drives down Pennsylvania avenue in his vehicle during the Inauguration Parade on January 21, 2013 in Washington, DC. The President was sworn in for second term. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

  • Awaiting Obama's Arrival

    People watch as the presidential inaugural parade winds through the nation's capital January 21, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • Showtime

    U.S. President Barack Obama exits his limousine to walk during a portion of the presidential inaugural parade in the nation's capital January 21, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

  • A Walk Back In Time

    Men in traditional colonial garb perform as U.S. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama walk along Pennsylvania Avenue during the parade following Obama's second inauguration as the 44th US president on January 21, 2013 in Washington, D.C.(MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A Hearty Thank You

    President Barack Obama waves after taking the oath of office during the 57th Presidential Inauguration ceremonial swearing-in at the U.S. Capitol on January 21, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

  • The President's Pen

    U.S. President Barack Obama (4R) is surrounded by (L-R) Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Vice President Joe Biden, House Speaker Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) and House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) while signing a proclamation to commemorate the inauguration, entitled a National Day of Hope and Resolve, directly after swearing-in ceremonies in the U.S. Capitol on January 21, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst-Pool/Getty Images)

  • Putting It In Writing

    President Barack Obama (2L) signs a proclamation to commemorate the inauguration, entitled a National Day of Hope and Resolve, as (L-R) Vice President Joe Biden, House Speaker Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), and House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) look on directly after swearing-in ceremonies in the U.S Capitol on January 21, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst-Pool/Getty Images)

  • It's Official

    President Barack Obama is sworn by Chief Justice John Roberts at the ceremonial swearing-in at the U.S. Capitol during the 57th Presidential Inauguration in Washington, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013.

  • The National Anthem

    President Barack Obama, surrounded by members of his family, listens to the National Anthem during the 57th Presidential Inauguration ceremonial swearing-in at the U.S. Capitol on January 21, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

  • The Winning Ticket

    U.S. President Barack Obama (L) talks with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on the reviewing stand as the presidential inaugural parade winds through the nation's capital January 21, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

  • Husband And Wife

    President Barack Obama takes the oath of office during the 57th Presidential Inauguration ceremonial swearing-in at the U.S. Capitol on January 21, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Father And Daughters

    President Barack Obama is greeted by daughter Sasha as Malia looks on at the beginning of the 57th Presidential Inauguration ceremonial swearing-in at the US Capitol on January 21, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Sister, Sister

    First daughters Sasha (L) and Malia arrive for the 57th Presidential Inauguration ceremonial swearing-in of President Barack Obama at the U.S. Capitol on January 21, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

  • The Second Family

    Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Dr. Jill Biden attend the Inaugural Luncheon in Statuary Hall on Inauguration day at the U.S. Capitol building January 21, 2013 in Washington D.C. (Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)

  • Bill & Hillary

    Former president Bill Clinton and the current U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrive for the 57th Presidential Inauguration ceremonial swearing-in of President Barack Obama at the U.S. Capitol on January 21, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Hillary & Harry

    Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, applaud during the Inaugural Luncheon in Statuary Hall on inauguration day at the U.S. Capitol building January 21, 2013 in Washington D.C. (Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)

  • The Supreme Court

    U.S. Supreme Court Justices (L-R) Anthony Kennedy, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Sonia Sotomayor Elena Kegan, Samuel A. Alito, and Stephen G. Breyer attend the presidential inauguration on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol January 21, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

  • Let's Do Lunch

    President Barack Obama shakes hands as he and first lady Michelle Obama arrive at the Inaugural Luncheon in Statuary Hall on Inauguration day at the U.S. Capitol building January 21, 2013 in Washington D.C. (Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)

  • Fine Dining

    The place card for U.S. President Barack Obama sits ready for the Inaugural Luncheon in Statuary Hall on inauguration day at the U.S. Capitol building January 21, 2013 in Washington D.C. (Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)

  • Neatly-Folded Napkins

    Rocio Saucedo of Design Cuisine folds napkins in preparation for the Inaugural Luncheon in Statuary Hall on Inauguration day at the U.S. Capitol building January 21, 2013 in Washington D.C. (Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)

  • Time To Eat

    Caterers set up for the Inaugural Luncheon in Statuary Hall on Inauguration day at the U.S. Capitol building January 21, 2013 in Washington D.C. (Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)

  • Crystal Clear

    U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, holds a crystal vase during a media briefing at the U.S. Capitol January 18, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

  • A Toast

    U.S. Vice President Joe Biden toasts with Sen. Charles Schumer, Chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, at the Inaugural Luncheon in Statuary Hall on inauguration day at the U.S. Capitol building January 21, 2013 in Washington D.C. (Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)

  • Capitol Pomp And Circumstance

    President Barack Obama gives his speech after taking the oath of office during the 57th Presidential Inauguration ceremonial swearing-in at the U.S. Capitol on January 21, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

  • The National Mall

    People crowd the National Mall to view U.S. President Barack Obama taking the oath of office during the 57th Presidential Inauguration ceremonial swearing-in at the U.S. Capitol on January 21, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

  • The Presidential Motorcade

    The presidential motorcade travels down Pennsylvania Ave. during the presidential inauguration January 21, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

  • Take Your Seats

    Reserved seats for guests to view U.S. President Barack Obama taking the oath of office during the 57th Presidential Inauguration ceremonial swearing-in at the US Capitol on January 21, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

  • The Podium

    Placemarks are set for the Obama and Biden families before the presidential inauguration on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol January 21, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

  • Places, Please!

    Placemarks are set for the Obama and Biden families before the presidential inauguration on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol January 21, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

  • A Special Sunrise

    American flags are waved as people gather near the U.S. Capitol building on the National Mall for the Inauguration ceremony on January 21, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

  • The Gingrich Family

    Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and wife Callista Gingrich arrive during the presidential inauguration on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol January 21, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

  • You Go, Joe

    President Barack Obama, center and Beau Biden, Attorney of Deleware, right, watch as his father Joe Biden is sworn in at the ceremonial swearing-in at the U.S. Capitol during the 57th Presidential Inauguration in Washington, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013.

  • Any Minute Now

    President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden look behind them on the West Front of the Capitol in Washington, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013, before their ceremonial swearing-in ceremony during the 57th Presidential Inauguration.

  • A Room With A View

    Vice President Joe Biden, left and President Barack Obama wait for their ceremonial swearing-in at the U.S. Capitol during the 57th Presidential Inauguration in Washington, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013.

  • I'm Here

    Caption contest, Anyone? Vice President Joe Biden, followed by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., arrives on the West Front of the Capitol in Washington, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013, for the Presidential Barack Obama's ceremonial swearing-in ceremony during the 57th Presidential Inauguration.

  • All Smiles

    Flanked by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden arrive at the ceremonial swearing-in at the U.S. Capitol during the 57th Presidential Inauguration in Washington, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013.

  • The Team

    President Barack Obama greets Vice President Joe Biden at the ceremonial swearing-in at the U.S. Capitol during the 57th Presidential Inauguration in Washington, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013.

  • Hillary Greets President Obama

    President Barack Obama is greeted by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton for his ceremonial swearing-in at the U.S. Capitol during the 57th Presidential Inauguration in Washington, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013.

  • The President Arrives

    President Barack Obama arrives for his ceremonial swearing-in at the U.S. Capitol during the 57th Presidential Inauguration in Washington, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013.

  • Bill 'Photo Bombs' Joe

    Vice President Joe Biden arrives at the ceremonial swearing-in of President Barack Obama at the U.S. Capitol during the 57th Presidential Inauguration in Washington, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013. Right is former President Bill Clinton.

  • Thumbs Up

    President Barack Obama flashes a thumbs up at the ceremonial swearing-in at the U.S. Capitol during the 57th Presidential Inauguration in Washington, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013.

  • President Obama Salutes

    This handout photo provided by NASA shows President Barack Obama saluting as he and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, depart the White House for Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013, and Obama's ceremonial swearing-in ceremony during the 57th Presidential Inauguration.

  • Hillary & Bill Arrive On The West Front

    Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and former President Bill Clinton arrive on the West Front of the Capitol in Washington, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013, for the Presidential Barack Obama's ceremonial swearing-in ceremony during the 57th Presidential Inauguration.

  • Even McCain Is Fired Up

    Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. arrives on the West Front of the Capitol in Washington, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013, for the Presidential Barack Obama's ceremonial swearing-in ceremony during the 57th Presidential Inauguration.

  • Leon Panetta Arrives

    Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood arrive on the West Front of the Capitol in Washington, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013, for the Presidential Barack Obama's ceremonial swearing-in ceremony during the 57th Presidential Inauguration.