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Liberal -- but also not outside the mainstream

Political observers have placed so much emphasis on the “liberal” second inaugural address that President Obama delivered yesterday.

David Remnick in the New Yorker called Obama “a liberal emboldened by political victory.”

Scott Andrews / Pool via AP

President Barack Obama waves to crowd after his Inaugural speech at the ceremonial swearing-in on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol during the 57th Presidential Inauguration in Washington, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013.

The Atlantic’s James Fallows added that the speech was “the most sustainedly ‘progressive’ statement Barack Obama has made in his decade on the national stage.” 

Politico’s Thrush agreed.

So did we. “More than anything else, [the address] was an unabashed defense of liberalism/progressivism,” we wrote in First Thoughts.

And now the GOP-leaning group Crossroad GPS has pounced on similar commentary with a new web video. “At least his rhetoric is now matching his record,” Crossroads spokesman Jonathan Collegio said in an email announcing the video.

But what is being mostly overlooked is how many of the policies and viewpoints Obama articulated in his inaugural address are supported by majorities of Americans.

Chris Cillizza, in for Chuck Todd, talks about President Barack Obama's inaugural address and his forceful argument for progressive values.

Take Obama’s advocacy for gay rights, for example. (“Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law,” Obama said in his speech yesterday). As it turns out, per the Dec. 2012 NBC/WSJ poll, a majority of Americans -- 51% -- favor gay marriage. That’s up from a mere 30% in 2004.

There’s also immigration reform. (“Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity.”) The Jan. 2013 NBC/WSJ found another majority -- 52% -- supporting giving illegal immigrants the ability to apply for legal status.

And then there's his defense of entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare. (“These things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.”) Polls overwhelmingly find that Americans support these programs.

One issue that Obama discussed yesterday -- stopping climate change -- is a topic that could be a harder political sell, although the NBC/WSJ poll hasn’t tested it in a long time. And it is possible, as the Washington Post's Dan Balz notes, that Obama's second term could be marked by overreach.

But it's also hard to argue that these “liberal” ideas and policies are somehow far outside the political mainstream.

As Politico writes, “The cultural changes that allowed Obama to be the first president to mention gay rights in an inaugural address are already widely accepted by the public or destined to be so soon as a younger, more socially liberal generation comes of age. The president’s promise to address climate change and his peroration on continuing ‘what those pioneers began’ on gender equality, gay rights, voting rights, immigration and gun control likewise illustrated just how much the White House is convinced that the country’s cultural center has moved.”

NBC's Domenico Montanaro contributed to this article.