But despite the change in tone, the president is not backing off the big plans he brought with him to the office - health care, an overhaul of financial regulation, a cap-and-trade system to control greenhouse gases, closing Guantanamo Bay and ending "don't ask, don't tell" for gays in the military.
Any one of these would constitute a significant legislative victory for Obama, but he has been unable to achieve any of them, despite huge majorities in both chambers. And with the stunning upset in Massachusetts, he no longer commands a 60-vote Senate supermajority to bring legislation to a vote. The success of his second year will depend on his persuasive powers to peel away Republican votes when needed. Good luck with that.
And while many had predicted the president would use the speech to unveil a new, more moderate, less liberal Obama, he instead offered up more liberalism, telling his troops to keep fighting for his primary issues.
The signature issue of his first year - health care - is stalled. And taking his cue from the unmistakable message sent from Massachusetts, he devoted the first half hour of his speech to jobs and economic recovery.
The president, however, is not giving up on health care, as the Republicans are urging and many Democrats privately are as well. To the lawmakers' laughter, he said, "By now it should be fairly obvious that I didn't take on health care because it was good politics." Turning serious, he urged, "Do not walk away from reform. Not now. Not when we are so close."
But from here the going will only get tougher. A new president can drive the agenda in his first year in office, but in the second year most of Congress is focused not on his legislative priorities but getting re-elected in the fall. And as Massachusetts proved, trying to run with ObamaCare draped like an albatross on one's shoulders is a recipe for political oblivion.
Obama's first State of the Union speech marked another milestone. Even though the recession, the red ink, unemployment and the unpopular bank bailout are largely not of his doing, the end of the first year in office is the expiration date on what he can blame on his predecessor. But this is a president who revels in breaking precedents; so expect him to break this one, too, and keep on blaming President Bush for everything unfavorable that happens between now and whenever he leaves office. He even had the gracelessness to talk about the end of the war in Iraq, without mentioning that it had been Bush's "surge" policy - which he loudly and wrongly opposed - which had won that war.
Yes, Obama is a long way from the "Yes, we can!" euphoria of his first day in office when all things seemed possible.