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First Thoughts: A tough sell

Obama’s tough sell on guns… Playing the short-term game and a longer-term one… NRA isn’t backing down… NBC/WSJ poll comes out tonight at 6:30 pm ET… Obama’s first four years in office -- then vs. now… What’s the same… And our raw “then” vs, “now” data.

*** A tough sell: For the Obama White House, the easy part was announcing its legislative recommendations to curb gun violence, as it did yesterday. But the hard part will be getting them through Congress -- even the relatively low-hanging fruit like universal background checks -- as well as sustaining the political momentum after the tragic Newtown shootings. Already, Republican lawmakers have rejected the recommendations out of hand, and we’re watching to see how some Democrats (like Sen. Joe Manchin) will be reacting in the weeks ahead. In an op-ed in the Connecticut Post, President Obama admits, as he did yesterday, that this all will be a tough sell. “The truth is, there's only one voice powerful enough to make this happen: yours. If you think we've suffered too much pain to allow this to continue, put down the paper, turn off the computer, and get your members of Congress on record… Ask them why getting an A-grade from the gun lobby is more important than giving parents some peace of mind when they drop their child off for first grade.” And the White House says the president will hit the road to sell these recommendations and keep up the political pressure. What was remarkable about yesterday was how much the president tried to tap into emotions to get a campaign going. Can he keep up that momentum?

Larry Downing / Reuters

The Capitol Dome is seen on Capitol Hill, Nov. 9, 2012. To the left is the U.S. House of Representatives.

*** The short-term game and the long-term one: Yet it’s important to remember that there are two games here. The first is the short-term game to get some of these measures passed through Congress. The second -- if that first game falls short -- is to change the politics of gun violence in the long term. And that’s where the campaigning and sustaining the political momentum come in. By the way, what we’re seeing with Obama’s ambitious gun proposal is a second-term president who’s free of having to run for office again. As USA Today writes, “The beauty of a second term presidency, at least for the man in the Oval Office, is that political calculations become less important as he considers policies he wants to pursue. President Obama's sweeping gun-safety agenda laid out Wednesday reflects just that reality as he called on Americans to get behind a dramatic plan that he believes can help stem gun violence.” Whether it’s been the fiscal-cliff debate, his cabinet picks (like Chuck Hagel), and now these gun proposals, Obama has been more confrontational and less burdened by simple politics.

The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd talks about President Barack Obama's new set of gun control proposals.

*** No, I won’t back down: For its part, the National Rifle Association isn’t backing down one bit. In an interview on “TODAY” with NBC’s Savannah Guthrie, the NRA’s David Keene opposed the kind of universal background checks Obama is calling for. Keene also argued that limiting gun magazines to just 10 rounds doesn’t do much to stop a mass shooter. (“It takes a second to change the magazine,” he said.) And he defended its web video that injected the Obama daughters into the gun-violence debate. (“It wasn’t about the president’s daughters,” Keene said about the web video. “It’s about how to keep children safe.”) It was curious to hear Keene’s answer on the magazine -- if it’s not that big of a deal then passing the legislation shouldn’t be a problem, right?

*** NBC/WSJ poll day! How does the American public view the gun-control debate? What are their views about Obama as he begins his second term next week? And what are their impressions about the Republican Party and the Tea Party? Be sure to tune into NBC’s “Nightly News,” or click onto NBCNews.com, beginning at 6:30 pm ET for the answers from our new national NBC/WSJ poll.

*** Obama’s first four years in office -- then vs. now: Speaking of Obama and beginning his second term, one of us has taken a statistical look at the past four years -- where things where as Obama took his first oath of office and where they are now. For starters, there are plenty of numbers suggesting that the country is on more solid footing than it was when he first took office on Jan. 20, 2009. The Dow Jones Industrial average is up 5,550 points since then. The economy is growing (instead of contracting). Consumer confidence has nearly doubled (though it remains below where it was before the Great Recession). And a larger percentage of Americans believe the country is headed in the right direction (but a majority still think it’s on the wrong track). On the other hand, there’s data indicating that the nation isn’t better off than it was four years ago – and that the Great Recession continues to take a toll on families. Median household income (adjusted for inflation) is lower than it was in 2009. And more Americans live below the poverty level than they did four years ago.

*** And what’s the same: In addition. some numbers are exactly the same. The current unemployment rate is at 7.8%, which is where it was in Jan. 2009 (though it’s down from a high of 10.0% in Oct. 2009). And right now, there are roughly 49 million Americans without health insurance, which is identical to where it was in 2009. (The health-insurance mandate under the health-care law doesn’t kick in until 2014.) But these might be the most striking figures: The number of U.S. troops in Iraq has dwindled from nearly 140,000 to just 200, while the presence in Afghanistan has increased from 34,000 to 66,000.

*** The raw “then” vs. “now” data:

Unemployment rate
Then: 7.8% (Jan. 2009)
Now: 7.8% (Dec. 2012)

Dow Jones Industrial Average

Then: 7,949.09 (close as of Jan. 20, 2009)
Now: 13,534.89 (close as of Jan. 15, 2013)

Gross Domestic Product
Then: -5.3% (1st quarter of 2009)
Now: +3.1% (3rd quarter of 2012)

Consumer Confidence (1985=100)
Then: 37.4 (Jan. 2009)
Now: 65.1 (Dec. 2012)

Americans who believe the country is headed in the right direction
Then: 26% of adults (Jan. 2009 NBC/WSJ poll)
Now: 41% of adults (Dec. 2012 NBC/WSJ poll)

Median household income (adjusted for inflation)
Then: $52,195 (Census data for 2009)
Now: $50,054 (Census data for 2011)

Americans living below the poverty level
Then: 43.6 million (Census data for 2009)
Now: 46.2 million (Census data for 2011)

Americans without health insurance
Then: 49.0 million (Census data for 2009)
Now: 48.6 million (Census data for 2011)

Americans receiving food stamps
Then: 33.5 million (average for 2009)
Now: 46.6 million (average for 2012)

Federal budget deficit
Then: -1.4 trillion (FY 2009)
Now: -$1.1 trillion (FY 2012 projected)

Federal public debt
Then: $10.6 trillion (Jan. 20, 2009)
Now: $16.4 trillion (Jan. 14, 2013)

Federal spending as a percentage of GDP
Then: 25.2% (FY 2009)
Now: 24.3% (FY 2012 projected)

Median sales price of new homes
Then: $208,600 (Jan. 2009)
Now: $246,200 (Nov. 2012)

Number of Democrats in U.S. House of Representatives
Then: 257 (2009)
Now: 201 (2013)

Number of Democrats (plus independents caucusing with Dems) in U.S. Senate
Then: 58 (Jan. 2009)
Now: 55 (Jan. 2013)

Number of Democratic governors
Then: 28 (2009)
Now: 19 (2013)

Number of U.S. troops in Iraq
Then: 139,500 (Jan. 2009)
Now: 200 (Jan. 2013)

Number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan
Then: 34,400 (Jan. 2009)
Now: 66,000 (Jan. 2013)

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