He quoted Jack Kennedy but needs to be more like Lyndon Johnson.

In an audacious State of the Union address last week, Barack Obama made sweeping proposals to raise the minimum wage, expand education and increase taxes on the well off. While careful to not declare it outright, an emboldened second-term president laid out an agenda that could be called a “war on inequality.”

“There are communities in this country where no matter how hard you work, it is virtually impossible to get ahead,” Obama declared in a blunt attack one a core conservative credo. “And that’s why we need to build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class.”

In some ways, the speech was no surprise. It was a continuation of the liberal vision of Obama’s Second Inaugural address. As Richard W. Stevenson noted in the New York Times, Obama “continued trying to define a 21st-century version of liberalism that could outlast his time in office and do for Democrats what Reagan did for Republicans.”

Throughout the State of the Union, Obama emphasized the collective over the individual, and concluded by hailing the notion of “citizenship.” “This country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another,” he declared, “and to future generations.”

Obama was careful, though, in the state of the union to avoid comparisons with the big government programs of the 1960s.

“It is not a bigger government we need,” Obama emphasized, “but a smarter government.”

No mention was made of Johnson, who introduced the legislation that became known as the “War on Poverty” in his 1964 State of the Union address. Those laws — along with many others he shepherded — stand today as perhaps the greatest legislative achievement of any modern president. Whether or not one agrees with Johnson, he enacted sweeping Civil Rights reforms, created Medicaid, Medicare and Head Start, and launched federal urban renewal and education programs that changed American society.

Now that Obama has shown a Johnson-like vision, he needs to show Johnson-like execution. However deft his rhetoric, Obama’s real legacy will be what he enacts legislatively.

Obama, of course, is very different from LBJ and governing in a vastly different time. While Johnson excelled at cajoling legislators, Obama finds it distasteful. Where Johnson could offer the promise of first-time federal efforts, Obama lives in an age of deep skepticism toward government. And while Johnson had full coffers, Obama faces crushing fiscal constraints.

In Obama’s defense, conservative Republicans rebuffed his attempt to strike a “grand bargain” on deficit reduction in his first-term. But the last minute tax deal that averted the so-called “fiscal cliff” last month suggests a potential new dynamic. While conservative House Republicans remain adamantly opposed to Obama’s proposals, he and Vice President Joe Biden found a way to strike a deal with more moderate Republicans on taxes.

It is crucial that Obama not fall victim to second-term hubris. A New York Times story published on the eve of the state of the union described how those who have met with Obama since he won re-election see a change in him.

“It is clear from these personal accounts as well as his public acts, like his bold Inaugural Address,” Jackie Calmes wrote, “that he has shown an assertiveness, self-possession, even cockiness that contrasts with the caution, compromise and reserve that he showed for much of his first term.”

Reducing inequality is a laudable goal, but Obama exaggerated the ability of the federal government to revive the middle class and the poor in his state of the union address. Government programs alone cannot counter the technological changes and globalized economy that have reduced the wages of middle class Americans. And without serious entitlement reform, the federal government will be unable to pay for the initiatives Obama outlined over the long term.

At the same time, Republican insistence that government alone is the problem is not credible. Slashing the size of government will not magically solve our problems. New approaches that move beyond 1960s liberalism and 1980s conservatism are needed.

In one promising sign, Obama pledged to work with “those states with the best ideas” to create jobs, lower energy bills and expand early childhood education. The Pew Charitable Trusts website details the innovative efforts that are being made outside Washington to deal with our myriad economic, education and social challenges. Some states are adopting conservative approaches. And some liberal ones.

In a less promising sign, the president embarked on a three-state tour designed to build grass-roots pressure on Congress to enact his agenda. Some political analysts even speculated that Obama hopes to win Democratic control of the House in 2014.

Obama should not wait for an electoral miracle. He and Biden should now work tirelessly — as Johnson did — to strike deals on Capitol Hill. It will not be easy. Conservative Republicans adamantly oppose Obama’s new agenda. He may have to abandon some of his most liberal proposals. But the “fiscal cliff” deal demonstrated that deals can be struck.

Over the past year, Obama and his team showed that they are masters of contemporary American politics. They need to now be Johnson-like masters of implementation as well.

David Rohde is a columnist for Reuters, a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize and a former reporter for The New York Times and Christian Science Monitor.