STIMULUS SPEECH…. It’s not especially common for presidents-elect to give major policy addresses two weeks before Inauguration Day, but watching Barack Obama’s speech in northern Virginia this morning, we were reminded that these are not ordinary times.

Watching the speech, it seemed to have a State-of-the-Union-like feel. Obama was addressing the public, but he also went out of his way to repeatedly urge Congress to deliver an economic rescue package immediately. Obama told lawmakers to resist the urge to pack earmarks into the bill, and repeatedly pressed members to get to work: “I urge Congress to move as quickly as possible…”; “Congress [must] act without delay…”; “I’m asking Congress to work with me and my team day and night, on weekends if necessary, to get the plan passed in the next few weeks.”

On a related note, Obama also stressed the importance of speed. He described a crisis that is so severe, that every day of delay makes matters worse. Obama talked about the need for “dramatic action as soon as possible,” and warned of the dire consequences of inaction.

“I know the scale of this plan is unprecedented,” Obama said, “but so is the severity of our situation. We have already tried the wait-and-see approach to our problems, and it is the same approach that helped lead us to this day of reckoning. That is why the time has come to build a 21st century economy in which hard work and responsibility are once again rewarded.” To that end, Obama described an ambitious vision on energy, healthcare, education, infrastructure, and closing loopholes that “allow Wall Street wrongdoers to slip through regulatory cracks.”

But here’s the part of the speech that, at least politically, was the most important:

“It is true that we cannot depend on government alone to create jobs or long-term growth, but at this particular moment, only government can provide the short-term boost necessary to lift us from a recession this deep and severe. Only government can break the vicious cycles that are crippling our economy — where a lack of spending leads to lost jobs which leads to even less spending; where an inability to lend and borrow stops growth and leads to even less credit.

“That is why we need to act boldly and act now to reverse these cycles. That’s why we need to put money in the pockets of the American people, create new jobs, and invest in our future. That’s why we need to re-start the flow of credit and restore the rules of the road that will ensure a crisis like this never happens again.”

Reagan told us that government “is the problem.” Clinton told us the “era of big government is over.” And Obama wants America to know that government is the “only” institution that’s capable of addressing an economic crisis of this severity.

For all of the talk in recent weeks about the president-elect’s ideology and partisan fealty, this speech was a reminder of the importance of government activism in a time of overwhelming challenges. And that, at its core, is an inescapably liberal message.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.