(Bloomberg) — President Barack Obama reached into his party's progressive past to deliver a robust endorsement of higher taxes for the wealthy, government intervention in the economy and an array of new benefits for lower- and middle- income Americans.

"Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well? Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort?" Obama said in a State of the Union address Tuesday night that at times sounded more like a party-rallying convention speech.

His direct appeal to taxing the rich and giving to the poor is a sign of just how mainstream populism has become at a time when 2016 presidential hopefuls, including Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Mitt Romney, are talking about how to help those left behind.

"We've seen a rhetorical shift from some Republican candidates for president in 2016. Tonight the president called their bluff and said here's my agenda for addressing income inequality," said Seth D. Harris, a former acting Labor secretary under Obama. "He issued a challenge to congressional Republicans and the long list of Republicans who want to be president in 2016 to lay out their agendas for addressing those issues."

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