WASHINGTON - There was a make-believe quality to President Obama's second inaugural address, as if all that's required to solve serious problems are the intelligence to produce proper policies and the political grit to get them approved.
Perish the thought that there are deep conflicts among the things that Americans want, or the possibility that some problems lack easy, obvious and inexpensive remedies. This isn't the vision Obama was peddling.
Take two examples: paying for the retirement of the baby boom, mainly through Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid; and responding to climate change.
On the baby boom, Obama said: "We reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future."
On climate change: "We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations."
Against this rousing rhetoric stand daunting realities.
Of course, there are conflicts between the young and old. In 2000, there were 45 million Social Security recipients; by 2025, the Social Security Administration projects the number at 79 million.
Already, paying for retirees is the largest source of federal spending.
In 2012, Social Security ($762 billion) exceeded defense ($651 billion) by 17 percent.
Medicare and Medicaid together ($720 billion) also topped defense. (Two-thirds of Medicaid goes to the elderly and disabled.)
Excluding these programs from even modest budget cuts - as Obama seems inclined to do - imposes huge costs on the young.
Their taxes will rise, big deficits will persist, or spending cuts will be concentrated on other programs more important to the working population (for starters, grants to state and local governments).
There's no honest way around these conflicts, but Obama pretended they don't exist.
On climate change, the difficulty is greater. Environmentalists argue that emissions from fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) need to be cut 50 percent to 80 percent by mid-century to avoid a ruinous warming.