Next time you hear that a year is a lifetime in politics, believe it.

Last year, when President Barack Obama delivered his annual State of the Union address to a Joint Session of Congress, Hosni Mubarak was marking his 30-year reign in Egypt and Muammar Gaddafi his 40-year rule in Libya. American forces were still facing combat in Iraq. And Osama Bin Laden was hiding with his wives and basic cable in a Pakistan suburb.

On the domestic front, the unemployment rate was a dismal 9.4 percent. The House of Representatives had been taken hostage by Republican reactionaries, and President Obama, stung by the midterms, promised to work with the new majority. The anti-government Tea Party was the de facto populist movement in America while the scraggly Occupy Wall Street protesters had yet to stake a tent in Zuccotti Park. Throughout it all, Albert Pujols played first base for the St. Louis Cardinals.

What a difference a year makes.

Pujols has moved to Disneyland. Egypt is putting Mubarak on trial and Libya is set to hold free elections. For the first time in nine years, American troops are no longer in Iraq. Osama Bin Laden is dead and lies buried at the bottom of the Arabian Sea.

GOP House members hold a job approval rate of a 8 percent. One wonders, who are these 8 percent who say “Yes, I approve of Congress” when talking to a pollster while their dinners cool?

With Congress’s numbers in the tank, President Obama, still the most popular elected politician in America, has shifted to a defiant stance of governing. It’s “with or without Congress”—with the president now issuing executive orders faster that you can tweet the changes to your friends. The unemployment rate has fallen sharply in recent months to 8.5 percent, and the Occupy encampments have pushed inequality to the fore of public debate.

It is with this backdrop that President Obama addressed the nation last night with a pointedly populist address intended more for the campaign trail than for breaking the gridlock between both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. For 65 minutes he stood with Americans who want to address the insanity of extreme inequality; to invest long-term in education, infrastructure, manufacturing, and renewable energy; to eliminate tax incentives for companies to move jobs overseas; to hold Wall Street banks accountable for their free market malfeasance; and to preserve Social Security and Medicare.

President Obama indicated that he will stake his reelection on a raw form of populism.

Some labor unions and economists dismiss the president’s proposals as either economically ineffectual or unlikely to become law. But they’re not running for reelection. And no one expects Washington to pass major legislation during an election year. So after three years of withstanding obstructionist tactics from congressional Republicans and now obscurantist attacks from Republican presidential candidates, last night Obama staked out the competitive motifs of his reelection campaign:

As long as I’m President, I will work with anyone in this chamber. But I intend to fight obstruction with action, and I will oppose any effort to return to the very same policies that brought on this economic crisis in the first place.

Post-partisanship, we hardly knew ye.

He outlined a better deal for the middle class by trumpeting a new industrial policy popular with progressive economists that links fairness with competitiveness. Within this framework, he re-calibrated long-held patriotic ideals of American “common purpose” and “common resolve.” In doing so, he highlighted the differences between his own presidential campaign to promote and uphold American decency, democracy, and private-public partnerships vis-à-vis the GOP’s campaign against government supports for the same. It was a masterful attempt at framing.

Obama is no Huey Long—he reiterated his support for fracking and off-shore oil drilling, for instance—but all the same, welcome back, American industrial populism.

First, on taxation: “You can call this class warfare all you want,” he said. “But asking a billionaire to pay at least as much as his secretary in taxes? Most Americans would call that common sense.”

Second, he sided with American workers. Obama proposed taking away the deduction for outsourcing, making companies pay a minimum tax for profits and jobs overseas, and rewarding companies with tax incentives for bringing jobs back to America. He proposed subsidizing job growth by using half of the savings from ending foreign wars and promoting new partnerships between colleges and private businesses to train and place millions of skilled workers in the workplace.

Third, he sharpened the economic contrast with the GOP. Obama defended the auto bailout and praised the industry’s turnaround. “Some even said we should let it die,” he said—a pointed jab at presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, who opposed the takeover of GM and Chrysler. And he chastised those who advocated fixing the housing crash by letting the foreclosures run their course and hit bottom, as Romney did last year. Instead, Obama expressed faith in a public-private partnership to support the middle class: “While government can’t fix the problem on its own, responsible homeowners shouldn't have to sit and wait for the housing market to hit bottom to get some relief.”

While the president still expressed vain hope for a post-partisan Washington, highlighted by an old-fashioned, stirring, patriotic whip-up about the American flag at the end of his speech, his experience in the capital with obstructionist Republicans—typified by what he called the “fiasco” of the debt-ceiling fight last summer—has changed him from a post-partisan conciliator to a “Give ‘em hell” Barack.

If liberals were worried that Obama would retreat to the political middle during this year’s campaign, last night indicated that he will stake his reelection on a raw form of populism, making millionaires pay more in taxes and attacking the House GOP as do-nothings.