From the same podium where President Obama stood, Ronald Reagan famously said that in the present crisis government is not the solution, government is the problem. Three decades on, emerging from another, even deeper crisis, the 44th president of the United States said government is at least part of the solution.
Americans remain sceptical of central authority and have never succumbed to the fiction that government is the total solution, he said.
"But we have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.
"For the American people can no more meet the demands of today's world by acting alone than American soldiers could have met the forces of fascism or communism with muskets and militias.
"No single person can train all the math and science teachers we'll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores. Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation, and one people."
Perhaps it is the ultimate sign of the end of the Reagan era that a president who uses a phrase like "collective action" could be re-elected.
He emphasised three prongs of civil rights, declaring: "We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still."
He went further, with direct mentions of equality regardless of race, gender and sexual orientation.
He referenced both Selma and Stonewall – landmark events for black and gay Americans, respectively – and talked of the country finally seeing its wives and mothers earning an "equal living" for the work that they do.
"It is our generation's task to carry on what those pioneers began," he said on the day, which was also Martin Luther King Day in the US.
"Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life; it does not mean we will all define liberty in exactly the same way, or follow the same precise path to happiness," Mr Obama said.
He hammered home the principal of liberty saying:
"We remember the lessons of our past . . . we do not believe in this country that freedom is reserved for the lucky or happiness for the few. We the people still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves but to all posterity."
His central theme was a focus on unity.
"Now more than ever we should do this as one nation," he stressed, adding that Americans were made for this moment and could succeed "so long as we seize it together".
"Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play.
"Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life's worst hazards and misfortune.
"Through it all, we have never relinquished our scepticism of central authority, nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all society's ills can be cured through government alone. Our celebration of initiative and enterprise, our insistence on hard work and personal responsibility, are constants in our character.
"This generation of Americans has been tested by crises that steeled our resolve and proved our resilience.
"A decade of war is now ending. An economic recovery has begun.
"America's possibilities are limitless, for we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands: youth and drive; diversity and openness; an endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention.
"My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it – so long as we seize it together," he said.