BACK in the early months of his presidency, when it appeared America's financial system was about to seize and destroy the nation's economy, Barack Obama was told by advisers to shelve his ambitions. His legacy, he was told, was going to be averting another Great Depression. Anything else was overreach.
Obama refused. ''That's not good enough for me,'' he said, according to the recent PBS documentary Inside the Obama Presidency. When it appeared the system might stagger forward he ordered his harried staff to begin work on healthcare reform.
If the President was unwilling to settle for an easier path then, there is no sign he is about to fold now, when he believes he has won another mandate and that a fractured Republican Party is battling inner demons.
This means that this year's State of the Union address may be more colourful than most, say observers such as Professor Allan Lichtman, a political analyst and historian from American University. Inauguration-style poetry may temper standard State of the Union prose. ''If you could describe the [State of the Union] speech in three words, it would be boring, boring, boring. You tend to get laundry lists of policy proposals rather than great dramatic themes or inspirational rhetoric.''
But if Obama wants to force Republicans in the House of Representatives to abandon their tactic of implacable opposition to all Democratic initiatives - and there is little evidence they will - Obama will have to use the annual constitutionally mandated report to Congress to speak past the elected representatives to appeal directly to the American people, Lichtman says.
''He has to take advantage of a fundamental feature of the United States Congress, and that is that Congress is like Wall Street. It operates on two principles: greed and fear. He ain't going to make them greedy for his policies. But how does he make them fearful?'' By striking fast to build public support and pressure for his agenda, Lichtman says.
There is evidence to support the analysis. In the wake of the massacre in Sandy Hook, Obama directed his Vice-President, Joe Biden, to come up with gun reform proposals, and launched them well before the inauguration, when normal political hostilities resume.
In early January, senior staffers were already briefing reporters on this new agenda. Before the end of that month the White House reactivated the organisation that helped win the November election, converting ''Obama for America'' into ''Organising for Action'' - a machine for permanent campaign.
Since then, Obama has been uncompromising in negotiations over the fiscal cliff and pending automatic spending cuts. And in his inauguration address the President maintained a pugnacious stance over the role of government in society, a stance some likened to a direct rebuttal of Ronald Reagan's famous inaugural declaration that government was the cause of America's problems, not their solution.
In the State of the Union the President is expected to return to the key theme of his election campaign - rebuilding the economy for the benefit of the middle class and facilitating jobs growth. But he is also expected to further press the case for immigration and gun law reform, and to return to the issue of climate change.
Asked how history would remember Obama's presidency should it rest on the achievements of its first term - slow but significant economic recovery and as yet unquantifiable health reform - Lichtman said it was impossible to know. He was only certain such a legacy would leave Obama unsatisfied.