The U.S. president is wooing the common man, who seems to have gone astray.

Sure, he got the obligatory applause and all the totally phony backslapping done for the benefit of the television cameras. Obama didn’t appear to expect any more than that from the 535 members of Congress, before whom he gave the traditional State of the Union address. He made the same old promises of bipartisanship and cooperation toward shared goals. But suddenly, he made a couple of angry asides that showed just how little he had meanwhile come to expect from his political opponents, not to mention their usual acrimonious rejection of everything he proposes. The president, whose political offensives had already stalled in the trenches of Congress during his first year, had meanwhile learned that trying to fight business-as-usual Washington lobbying with persuasion was a losing battle.

The people Obama was trying to win over with his address weren’t the political big shots but those who carried him to victory and into the White House a year earlier, namely, America’s battered and long-suffering middle class. For them, he subjugated everything in the speech to one overriding subject: jobs, jobs, jobs. The president had finally come to realize that the healthcare reform he had tried to shepherd through Congress was, first of all, not really understood by most Americans and, secondly, wasn’t as important to them as the unemployment dangers they increasingly faced.

Obama now knows that he needs popular support to put congressional Republicans under pressure. Up to now, he had contented himself with forcing them into being the party of “no,” in which they didn’t come off as obstructionist as much as he came off as ineffective. The battered American hero has to first get the people behind him; only then he can go back on the political offensive.