PRESENTING THE PRESIDENT WITH AN OPPORTUNITY…. The agenda appears to have been pulled from a Dickens novel. Congressional Republicans, filled with self-righteous certainty about public attitudes, envisions an ambitious agenda, including the privatization of Medicare, gutting Medicaid, taking away health coverage for millions of struggling Americans, and lavishing tax breaks on millionaires and billionaires.

The GOP’s immodest goals, in other words, are to turn back the clock — not to the Bush or Reagan eras, but to a time before the Great Society and the New Deal. Republicans are working under the assumption that working families and the middle class have had it too good for too long.

E.J. Dionne Jr., while detailing the ways in which the GOP agenda is “radical,” urges President Obama to “engage the country in this big argument.”

Will his political advisers remain robotically obsessed with poll results about the 2012 election, or will they embrace Obama’s historic obligation — and opportunity — to win the most important struggle over the role of government since the New Deal? […]

[The Republican agenda] is all extreme and irresponsible stuff. The president knows it. The coming week will test who he is. When Ryan releases his budget, will the president finally engage?

“This is our time,” Obama liked to say during the 2008 campaign. This most certainly is his time to stand up for the vision of a practical, progressive government that he once advanced so eloquently.

I have no real doubts that the president and congressional Democrats will oppose the GOP’s extremism. There’s simply no way, for example, Obama would endorse privatizing Medicare out of existence. It’s a non-starter.

But given the scope of the Republican agenda, and the way in which the House majority likes to negotiate — demand the truly insane, settle for the merely obscene — this appears to be one of those times a simple veto threat isn’t enough.

What Dionne seems to be suggesting, and I think he’s correct, is that the White House and its allies should see this opportunity, not only to oppose GOP radicalism, but also to explain why this agenda is so ridiculous.

There’s ample evidence that the American mainstream is instinctively opposed to what Republicans have in mind, so the Dems’ message should land on fertile soil. It’s largely up to Obama, however, to actually make the case.

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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.