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Sunday, December 11, 2016

WASHINGTON — If a president finds himself in the role of a political scientist, he has a problem — even when his political science lesson is 100 percent accurate.

When President Obama was asked by Jonathan Karl of ABC News at his Tuesday news conference whether he still had “the juice” to get his agenda through Congress, I wish he had replied, “Lighten up. This is the country where hope lives.”

He could have used the flow of the news to make this case. For example, many of the senators who sided with the gun lobby against the vast majority of Americans who favor background checks — particularly Kelly Ayotte, Jeff Flake and Rob Portman — are taking enormous grief from their constituents.

This shows that one defeat on one vote is not a permanent setback when the tally in question reflects an old reality (that only hardcore gun owners care about the issue) and ignores a new reality (that supporters of gun sanity are finally mobilized, and angry). On guns, the times are changing.

They are changing on other issues, too. Obama’s warm praise for the decision of the NBA’s Jason Collins to come out as gay was uncontroversial. If you think back just a decade or two, this is astonishing. And if immigration reform is no slam-dunk, the politics have shifted sharply toward action.

Add to this a New York Times/CBS News poll released Wednesday showing that while 46 percent of Americans believe the sequester cuts will hurt the economy, only 1 in 10 thinks they will help it. The austerity Republicans champion has few takers.

Obama lightly touched on some of these themes, but in answering Karl’s question, he seemed more impatient and analytical than optimistic.

“We understand that we’re in divided government right now,” the president said. “Republicans control the House of Representatives. In the Senate, this habit of requiring 60 votes for even the most modest piece of legislation has gummed up the works there. … Things are pretty dysfunctional up on Capitol Hill.” He went on to note that the base of the Republican Party “thinks that compromise with me is somehow a betrayal. They’re worried about primaries.”