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December 22nd, 2009
03:55 PM ET

Five turning points of the decade

The election in 2008 of an African-American to the presidency in a country whose economy once revolved around slavery was historic.

The election in 2008 of an African-American to the presidency in a country whose economy once revolved around slavery was historic.

Julian Zelizer
Special to CNN

The first decade of the 21st century in the United States was defined by terrorism, crisis and uncertainty. The exuberance of the 1990s, with its strong economic growth and the sense of American military omnipotence, came to an end.

Most Americans have been left reeling from nine very difficult years, even though the decade neared its close with a presidential election that spoke to the promise and potential of the nation.

We must remember that any "most important" list should be seen as the beginning of a conversation, not a definitive judgment.

Historians learn that it is extraordinarily difficult to discern exactly which events will be transitory and which will have the most long-lasting effects.

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Filed under: Julian E. Zelizer
November 30th, 2009
11:44 AM ET

Obama faces risk of a wartime presidency


President Obama greets U.S. troops on a visit to South Korea.

Julian E. Zelizer
Special to CNN

President Obama is taking a huge step in his presidency. After weeks of careful deliberation, the president has sided with military officials who have been pushing for an escalation of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Explaining his objectives and exit strategy, Obama is expected to announce that he will be sending 30,000 troops, and possibly more, into the region.

With this decision, Obama inches closer to becoming a wartime president. Even though the White House insists that they will continue to work hard on their domestic agenda, historically, presidents who become involved in protracted ground wars find that their presidencies are defined by their military conflicts. The politics that surround a military operation play an enormous role in the political success or failure of an administration.

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November 3rd, 2009
10:55 AM ET

What happened to bipartisanship?

Julian E. Zelizer
Special to CNN

When Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced he would be pushing for a public option in the final health care bill, it looked as if he had given up on the possibility of a bipartisan agreement.

Most Republicans have been steadfast in their opposition to the Democratic health care proposals. The only serious possibility for GOP backing has come from Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine. While expressing support for much of the Senate Finance Committee bill, she has said she would accept a public option only if private markets and new regulations fail to control costs and lower premiums.

Reid's decision is not a sign of commitment to an ideal but rather an act of political realism. The notion that either party will be able to find substantive bipartisan support for legislation today is dubious. The political forces that generate partisan conflict in Washington are deeply rooted and hard to change.

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Filed under: 360° Radar • Julian E. Zelizer • Raw Politics
October 27th, 2009
10:01 AM ET

Without jobs, where's the recovery?

Even if the stock market broke the 10,000 point barrier a few weeks ago, many Americans can't see what all the enthusiasm is about.

Even if the stock market broke the 10,000 point barrier a few weeks ago, many Americans can't see what all the enthusiasm is about.

Julian E. Zelizer
CNN

When the stock market broke the 10,000 point barrier a few weeks ago, many investors celebrated. Economists have started to talk about the end of the "Great Recession." But many Americans can't see what all the enthusiasm is about.

National unemployment rates remain extraordinarily high, having reached almost 10 percent. According to the Congressional Budget Office, unemployment will climb to 10.2 percent in 2010 before falling to around 9.1 percent the following year.

Within particular states, the situation is dire. In Massachusetts, unemployment rates have reached a level not seen since 1976. Michigan's unemployment rate is at a little over 15 percent. State budgets, according to a report by the Rockefeller Institute of Government, are still devastated by rapidly declining tax revenue. According to its study, collections by states fell by 16.6 percent from April to June.

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Filed under: Economy • Julian E. Zelizer • Unemployment
October 12th, 2009
11:18 AM ET

When Nobel Prize rewarded failure

President Obama, speaking last Friday, said the award was an affirmation of American leadership.

President Obama, speaking last Friday, said the award was an affirmation of American leadership.

Julian E. Zelizer
CNN

Did President Obama deserve the Nobel Peace Prize? That debate will likely continue for weeks to come. But the more interesting question may be about what impact the prize will have on President Obama himself and the key decisions he must make about national security.

The case of Woodrow Wilson, the last sitting president to be awarded the prize, offers some useful lessons.

On December 10, 1920, Albert Schmedeman, the American Minister to Norway, accepted the Nobel Prize on behalf of President Wilson, who was being honored for his work in creating the League of Nations. The president had first been nominated in 1918, but strong internal disagreement within the committee delayed his receiving the prize. It was his actual campaign to gain ratification for the League of Nations agreement in 1919 that persuaded the committee he had earned the recognition.

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Filed under: Barack Obama • Julian E. Zelizer
October 5th, 2009
10:56 AM ET

Obama's mistakes are a warning sign

President Obama personally appealed to IOC members for the 2016 summer Olympic Games to be in Chicago.

President Obama personally appealed to IOC members for the 2016 summer Olympic Games to be in Chicago.

Julian E. Zelizer
CNN

During the past few months, two events have revealed a side of President Obama that we knew little about. First came his remark in July when he said at a press conference that the police who arrested Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates had acted "stupidly."

The unrehearsed remark triggered controversy right at a time when Democrats needed to focus public attention on health care.

And last week, at a climactic moment for the health care debate in the Senate, Obama suddenly went to make a personal pitch for holding the 2016 Summer Olympics in Chicago, Illinois.

When the International Olympic Committee said no to the president's hometown in the first round of voting, and then gave the event to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Obama suffered an embarrassing defeat. The late-night comedians and his political foes were predictably chomping at the bit.

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Filed under: Barack Obama • Julian E. Zelizer
September 14th, 2009
08:15 AM ET

Why the shock about Joe Wilson?

Julian E. Zelizer
Special to CNN

When Rep. Joe Wilson interrupted President Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress by yelling "You lie!" a livid House Speaker Nancy Pelosi looked as if she was about to jump out of her seat and give her colleague a five-minute "time out" for misbehavior.

Majority Whip Jim Clyburn warned that he supports reprimanding Wilson unless he goes to the well of the House and apologizes. Many pundits and politicians have subsequently lamented that the incident has revealed a new level of incivility in Congress.

And certainly this was an embarrassing moment for the GOP, which looked more like the party of Joseph McCarthy than Ronald Reagan. This has been a summer when some members of the Republican Party outside of Congress have chosen a strategy of yelling and screaming, rather than debating and legislating.

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Filed under: Julian E. Zelizer • Raw Politics
September 9th, 2009
12:02 PM ET

Obama’s moment of truth

Julian E. Zelizer
Special to CNN

On Wednesday, President Obama will make the most important speech of his presidency. We hear this phrase so much that it has become a cliché. But, in this case, the cliché is accurate.

President Obama suffered a politically brutal month in August. The opponents of health care dominated public debate about the legislation circulating in Congress. Public approval ratings for the president and his health care plan, as well as the Democratic Congress, have fallen. Democrats have become internally divided.

It is possible Obama could end his first year in the White House without a major piece of legislation beyond the economic stimulus.

For a president who began the year with his supporters talking about a transformative leader who would equal Presidents Lincoln or Roosevelt, this would be a major disappointment.

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August 17th, 2009
09:45 AM ET

2010 makes Democrats nervous

Julian E. Zelizer
Special to CNN

Democrats are getting nervous about the way that events have been unfolding this summer.

Although few Democratic officials have concluded that it's time to start panicking, there are disturbing political trends developing right at the time that members are starting to think seriously about the midterm elections.

The outlines of a significant political problem have emerged: the possibility that the White House simultaneously disillusions liberal Democrats and angers Republicans.

The situation is of course very much in flux. Much of what happens will depend on the decisions of the White House and Congress in September and October.

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Filed under: Democrats • Julian E. Zelizer • Raw Politics
May 28th, 2009
08:41 AM ET

Obama and the life of the party

Julian E. Zelizer
Special to CNN

With his appointment of Sonia Sotomayor and a fiery speech in Nevada, President Obama bought himself a little breathing space with congressional Democrats after taking a big political hit from them last week.

The debate over closing the Guantanamo prison intensified when congressional Democrats refused to provide the administration with the funds needed to conduct the transfer.

Democrats were frustrated that Obama, who had announced the closure as one of the first pieces of business for his administration, had failed to provide his own party's leaders with the details of the plan.

When conservatives warned that detainees would be sent to American prisons from where they could potentially spread terrorism in the heartland, congressional Democrats were vulnerable, left without enough information to mount a defense.

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