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2014 more likely to be a year of ill-tempered stagnation than action for Obama

US President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address. Photo: PA

There was a single moment last night when President Obama - besieged, weakened, weary - managed to unite Republicans and Democrats.

It was a tribute that led to the longest standing ovation of the night and moved many listeners to tears.

It had nothing to do with policy or politics.

Instead, President Obama told the remarkable story of a US Army Ranger, Sgt. First Class Cory Remsburg, who was a guest in the Congressional gallery.

The soldier first met the President in France. The next time was in a hospital bed, after Cory had suffered catastrophic injuries in a roadside bomb in Afghanistan.

Against all the odds, the Ranger emerged from a coma and endured multiple surgeries. He not only survived but he's recovering and wants to serve his country again.

The third time Sgt Cory Remsburg met Obama he was able to salute the commander-in-chief and walk a few steps.

Sgt Cory Remsburg, sitting next to Michelle Obama, acknowledges the applause Credit: REUTERS/Gary Cameron

The President was using the powerful and emotional story as a parable for America: it has suffered a terrible set-back in the Great Recession, but is now bouncing back. The United States, Obama was suggesting, is also on an improbable path to recovery.

Of course, none of this changes the fact that President Obama is in peril. He's a second term President dealing with a dysfunctional and paralysed Congress.

Already Washington's focus is moving to the 2016 race. It's too soon to describe Obama as a lame duck, but he is entering the final months in which he can shape the political agenda.

US President Barack Obama salutes Sgt. First Class Cory Remsburg during the standing ovation. Credit: APTN

Last night's State of The Union was a ritual that only briefly obscured the poisonous atmosphere here. The President spoke about 2014 being a year of action. It's more likely to be a year of ill-tempered stagnation.

He spoke of reforming the tax code, of immigration reform, and of grasping opportunity. But none of this will come to pass. So the President chose to rally Americans to the one issue that no one will contest: The bravery of US soldiers fighting in unpopular and poorly managed wars.

It was a deft touch by Obama, reminding us of his skill as a speaker and his ability to appeal to Americans' optimistic spirit. But as he hits the road today to sell his message in Maryland and Pennsylvania, Obama knows that the Republicans are spoiling for a fight.

His second term promises to be a series of skirmishes and Obama's troops are already nervously waiting for a new General to appear over the horizon.