With his approval running well under 50 percent, Obama was not quite so confrontational as he has been in the past.
He conceded that in the last four years, wages "have barely budged," that inequality "has deepened" and upward mobility "has stalled." No more blaming everything on George W. Bush.
He noted obliquely that "last year the Voting Rights Act was weakened" without explicitly attacking the Supreme Court for its ruling that states could not be singled out for heightened scrutiny based on low voter turnout in the years from 1964 to 1972.
He said he would work with states expanding pre-kindergarten schooling and limited his Republican bashing to the phrase "as Congress decides what it's going to do." He noted approvingly Republican Sen. Marco Rubio's proposal to reshape the Earned Income Tax Credit.
To be sure, many of his proposals were pretty small-ball. He recycled calls for corporate tax reform, port upgrades and high-tech manufacturing hubs. He called for patent reform and savings bond investment accounts.
Contrary to press predictions, he did not harp on "income inequality" -- the phrase must poll poorly. The remedies he proposed -- raising the minimum wage and continuing 100-week unemployment benefits -- do pathetically little to address it.
Immigration and gun control got brief, vague paragraphs. His defensive paragraphs about Obamacare evoked as much laughter as applause.
His proclamation of economic progress was necessarily tepid. His hailing of America's approaching energy independence necessarily omitted the fact that his administration has done more to discourage than encourage the fracking revolution in oil and natural gas.
He was careful to say that solar panel installation can't be outsourced but of course failed to mention that solar panel manufacturing can be and is -- and that his crony capitalism "investment" in Solyndra and other solar firms was a bust.
On issues dear to the heart of Democratic core constituencies, he resorted to outright falsehoods.
Women earn only 77 cents for each dollar men earn, he said. That's a number that goes back to the 1970s. His own Labor Department's survey says that when you take account of hours worked and type of work, the number is more like 95 cents.
"Research shows that one of the best investments we can make in a child's life is high-quality early education," he said. Actually, his own Health and Human Services study has found no lasting value in Head Start programs.
"The debate is settled," he said. "Climate change is a fact." It is "already harming western communities suffering from drought and coastal cities dealing with floods."
Actually, temperatures have not increased over the last 15 years, as the global warming alarmists' models predicted. Perhaps they will over the longer run.
But most people who accept or reject global warming have the good sense to resist the temptation to claim that any recent unpleasant weather -- drought, floods, whatever -- confirms their view. Obama was unable to resist.
The president spent more time on foreign policy than expected, tacitly acknowledging mistakes. He admitted al Qaeda's "core leadership" is only on "a path to defeat" and its threat "has evolved" in Yemen, Somalia, Mali and Iraq.
That's an implicit admission that the failure to get an agreement to maintain some U.S. troops in Iraq has increased the threat -- and Obama could only say he hopes for such an agreement in Afghanistan.
On Syria, Obama said he would "support the opposition that rejects the agenda of terrorist networks" and work with allies to give the Syrian people "a future free of dictatorship, terror and fear." How?
Iran, he said, was forced to the negotiating table by tough sanctions, but he would veto the bill to add sanctions if negotiations fail -- but then would call for more himself. Huh?
The best part was the end. Obama told of meeting Army Ranger Cory Remsburg at a D-Day anniversary and then again after he was seriously injured in Afghanistan -- and how Remsburg is recovering and determined to serve again.
"Men and women like Cory remind us that America has never come easy," he said, in an eloquent paragraph recounting America's achievements over 200-plus years that everyone in the audience could agree with.
An excellent end to an overlong speech by an apparently chastened and weary president.