July 19th, 2010
02:33 PM ET

Why Obama's poll numbers have sunk

Julian E. Zelizer
Special to CNN

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/OPINION/07/19/zelizer.obama.midterm/tzleft.julian.zelizer.jroemer.jpg caption="Zelizer: Until Obama shows he's focused on big concerns such as jobs, support in peril" width=300 height=169]

Princeton, New Jersey (CNN) - President Obama's supporters have been frustrated about the apparent paradox of this administration. With the recent passage of historic financial regulation legislation, many Democrats are having trouble grasping why his approval ratings still lag and why Democrats might lose control of the House in the fall elections.

Supporters say the economic stimulus bill, education and health care reform, and now financial reform, should have Americans looking at the White House with the same admiration they had for President Roosevelt in the 1930s or President Johnson at the height of his success in 1964 and 1965.

But according to a recent CBS News poll, just 40 percent of those polled approved of how the president was handling the economy. This was a drop of five percentage points since June.

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June 7th, 2010
11:31 AM ET

Opinion: Why Obama should forget 'change you can believe in'

Julian Zelizer
Special to CNN

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/OPINION/06/07/zelizer.obama.change.politics/t1larg.obama.conference.press.gi.jpg caption="Zelizer: Obama should drop anti-Washington rhetoric now that he's part of the system" width=300 height=169]

Congressional Democrats have been warning President Obama to tone down his anti-Washington rhetoric.

While the president has continued to expound on his campaign themes about the need to change the way Washington works, many of his colleagues on Capitol Hill have been uncomfortable with this posture. Speaker Pelosi and others have asked him to focus his fire on Republicans rather than the system of which they are a part.

The dangers that President Obama, whose 2008 slogan was "change we can believe in," faces from continuing to depict himself as an agent of change became clearer over the past few weeks.

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June 1st, 2010
09:25 AM ET

The legacy of 'drill, baby, drill'

Julian Zelizer
Special to CNN

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/OPINION/06/01/zelizer.deregulation.oil/tzleft.julian.zelizer.jroemer.jpg caption="Zelizer says lax regulations helped set the stage for the massive Gulf oil spill" width=300 height=169]

The impact of the oil spill in the Gulf Coast is starting to be made vivid by the steady flow of still images and video that capture this catastrophe. For example, Phillippe Cousteau, the grandson of Capt. Jacques-Yves Cousteau, dove into the oil spill, wearing protective gear. He captured horrifying video images of what has been taking place beneath the sea.

A debate is already unfolding about whether President Obama has been effective in his response. Is this Obama's Katrina, as some commentators have asked? The president has come under fire, primarily from Republicans, but also from a growing number of environmental advocates, for being too slow to act.

Recent news reports have revealed the Obama administration has been as negligent in its oversight of drilling as the previous administration.

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Filed under: Gulf Oil Spill • Julian E. Zelizer • Opinion
April 13th, 2010
10:21 AM ET

Why controlling nukes is good politics

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/POLITICS/04/13/obama.hu.nuclear.meeting/c1main.obama.summit.cnn.jpg caption="According to Julian Zelizer, the American public prefers politicians willing to take risks to prevent nuclear war." width=300 height=169]
Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of Julian Zelizer.

Julian E. Zelizer
Special to CNN

In the week leading up to the meeting of world leaders in Washington, President Obama has been demonstrating a strong commitment to nuclear arms control.

Last week, he signed the first major agreement with the Russians since 2002, which reduces the number of nuclear warheads and long-range missiles.

Obama released the Nuclear Posture Review, saying the United States would not use nuclear weapons against countries that complied with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, even if they attacked with conventional weapons. At the same time, the president said the countries that refused to abide by the treaty could be subject to nuclear reprisal.

Although Obama's Nuclear Posture Review does not go nearly as far as many of his supporters were hoping, some Republicans immediately attacked.

Sens. John Kyl and John McCain warned that "we believe that preventing nuclear terrorism and nuclear proliferation should begin by directly confronting the two leading proliferators and supporters of terrorism, Iran and North Korea. The Obama administration's policies, thus far, have failed to do that, and this failure has sent exactly the wrong message to other would-be proliferators and supporters of terrorism."

Some Democrats, constantly leery about appearing weak on national security, will buckle as the politics of nuclear weapons heats up when the treaty with the Russians reaches the Senate for ratification. But the administration should pursue this treaty aggressively and with confidence that they can win public opinion on this issue.

The president must remind fellow Democrats, as well as Republicans, that historically the public has tended to strongly support nuclear weapons treaties, and the presidents who pursue them.

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March 29th, 2010
11:39 AM ET

Risk for GOP comes from extreme fringe

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/POLITICS/03/24/congress.threats/story.capitol.police.jpg.jpg caption="Police stood guard outside the Capitol before the recent health care vote to deal with threats of violence." width=300 height=169]

Julian E. Zelizer
Special to CNN

As he stood before the delegates of the 1964 Republican Convention in San Francisco, California, Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, the party's presidential nominee, said, "I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."

The delegates, who had booed New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller when he called for the party to respect moderation, were thrilled. Many of Goldwater's supporters were determined to push their party toward the right wing of the political spectrum. They felt that their party leaders, including President Eisenhower, had simply offered a watered-down version of the New Deal.

Yet Goldwater soon learned that extremism could quickly become a political vice, particularly to a party seeking to regain control of the White House. The right wing of the Republican Party in the early 1960s inhabited a world that included extremist organizations, such as the John Birch Society, that railed against communism.

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Filed under: Julian E. Zelizer • Republicans • Tea Party
March 1st, 2010
12:03 PM ET

Time for Democrats to take a risk

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/12/11/health.care.benefit.caps/story.bill.gi.jpg caption= "Democrats are considering having the House pass the health care bill approved in the Senate, then dealing with additional reforms through reconciliation." width=300 height=169]

Julian E. Zelizer
Special to CNN

After the Republicans and Democrats met at the White House summit on health care, it was clear that the parties are very far away from a bipartisan agreement. Indeed, few participants walked away with the sense that they were any closer to a deal.

The White House did make clear that it was willing to move forward on health care without Republican support. The choice now becomes whether Democrats should use the budget reconciliation process to pass some parts of health care legislation. According to recent reports, Democrats are considering having the House pass the bill that was already approved in the Senate and then dealing with a package of additional reforms through reconciliation.

Programs that are considered under the reconciliation process are not subject to a Senate filibuster. Democrats would only need 51 votes, not 60, to pass those parts of the bill that are included under reconciliation.

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Filed under: Democrats • Health Care • Julian E. Zelizer
February 22nd, 2010
11:03 AM ET

Don't blame Congress for leaders' faults

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/POLITICS/02/16/bayh.senate/story.bayhe.gi.jpg caption="Bayh and other politicians have warned of dysfunction in Congress." width=300 height=169]

Julian E. Zelizer
Special to CNN

When Sen. Evan Bayh announced that he would step down from the Senate, he said that Congress had become a dysfunctional institution. "I love helping our citizens make the most of their lives, but I do not love Congress," Bayh lamented.

Bayh is not the only politician or pundit to issue this warning in recent months. There have been an abundance of proclamations that Congress no longer works.

Certainly, the argument has merits. Institutions and process matter very much in American politics. As many commentators, including myself, have written, the constant use of the filibuster by both parties, the power of interest groups and their lobbyists and the intense pressures to fundraise are just a few examples of why legislating is so difficult. There is no disagreement here.

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Filed under: Evan Bayh • Julian E. Zelizer • Opinion
January 26th, 2010
12:06 PM ET

When liberals revolt

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/POLITICS/11/04/election.president/art.obama.speech.01.cnn.jpg caption="Julian Zelizer says that, since the Massachusetts vote, Obama has seemed to move toward the center."]

Julian E. Zelizer
Special to CNN

In the week since Republican Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts, President Obama has shown signs that he is preparing to move further to America's political center.

In many respects, Obama has reached a fork in the road and must decide whether he plans to veer to the center at the expense of his increasingly discontented liberal base.

We won't know the full outlines of the president's new approach until his State of the Union address on Wednesday. But there are strong indications: He will propose a three-year freeze on discretionary spending in most government agencies and, over the weekend, he endorsed the idea of creating a commission to make recommendations for reducing the budget deficit.

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January 20th, 2010
01:42 PM ET

Midterms could sap Obama's power

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/POLITICS/01/19/massachusetts.senate/smlvid.brown.gi.jpg width=300 height=169]

Julian E. Zelizer
Special to CNN

Scott Brown's victory over Martha Coakley in Massachusetts has sent shock waves through the Democratic Party.

This is a devastating symbolic and practical loss for the party, one that turns the U.S. Senate seat of a liberal lion, the late Ted Kennedy, over to Republican hands. The loss drops the size of the Democratic majority down to 59, which is below the vaunted filibuster-proof majority.

This could very well just be a taste of things to come. Most likely, the midterm elections won't be good for the Democrats. Traditionally, midterms are not good for the party that controls the White House. With the exception of 1934, 1998, and 2002, since Reconstruction the president's party has suffered losses, with some worse than others, in the midterm that followed each president's election.

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January 4th, 2010
10:53 AM ET

Blame game won't stop terrorism

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/12/31/abdulmutallab.terror.radical.cleric/story.suspect.air.usm.jpg caption="Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab appears to have had contact with radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki." width=300 height=169]

Julian E. Zelizer
Special to CNN

Almost as soon as the botched Christmas airplane bombing hit the airwaves, the politics of national security reared its head.

Many Republicans quickly attacked President Obama for being responsible for the fact that Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab was able to walk onto an airplane with dangerous explosives despite the fact that the government had received warnings about him. They argued that the failure proved the White House was weak on terrorism.

"Soft talk about engagement, closing Gitmo," warned South Carolina Republican Jim DeMint, "these things are not going to appease the terrorists..." Representative Dan Burton of Indiana called for Janet Napolitano, who said the system "had worked," to step down. Napolitano, said Burton, "does not have the background or experience necessary to execute her responsibilities." Former Vice President Dick Cheney asked of the president, "Why doesn't he want to admit we're at war."

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Filed under: 360° Radar • 360º Follow • Julian E. Zelizer • Terrorism
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