May 20th, 2009
11:53 AM ET

Democrats on defense

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Julian E. Zelizer
Special to CNN

President Obama has been struggling to get things right on national security. The president has not displayed the same kind of poise and confidence as he has with domestic issues.

In contrast to the economic stimulus and health care reform, there have been a number of missteps, reversals and intra-party tensions over national security since Obama took office.

Obama, who in February 2008 said the trials of Guantanamo detainees were "too important to be held in a flawed military commission system," now says that he will continue to use that system, though in slightly modified fashion. When Obama announced that he would not release photographs of mistreated detainees, many of his supporters could not help but be disappointed.

The most recent controversy has been the battle over a briefing about the CIA's interrogation methods. The battle has been damaging to Democrats because it pits House Speaker Nancy Pelosi against the CIA. The controversy has inspired Republicans to argue that Democrats were complicit in the interrogation methods they have been criticizing.

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Filed under: 360° Radar • Democrats • Julian E. Zelizer
May 6th, 2009
09:17 AM ET

Grateful Dead on health care

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Julian E. Zelizer
Special to CNN

All the stars seem to have aligned for the passage of national health care reform. Victory, supporters say, is inevitable.

During the past week, two important developments excited health care proponents.

First, President Obama and Senate Democrats included reconciliation instructions in the budget for health care. If a deal is not reached by October, congressional Democrats can use a process that prohibits a filibuster and allows passage of the bill with 51 rather than 60 votes in the Senate.

And even if opponents of the bill attempted to stage a filibuster, the switch of Sen. Arlen Specter to the Democratic Party, combined with the likely victory of Al Franken as a senator from Minnesota, would provide Democrats with 60 votes to fight it off.

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Filed under: Health Care • Julian E. Zelizer
April 27th, 2009
01:49 PM ET

Give Obama an “incomplete”

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Julian E. Zelizer
Special to CNN

When President Obama moved into the White House, press speculation immediately began about what his first 100 days would look like.

Journalists as well as scholars looked to history to speculate about which models of presidential leadership he might follow.

As we reach the end of the first 100 days this week, Obama remains much of a mystery. If we are talking grades, the best we can give him at this point is an "incomplete."

Given that the first 100 days is only an artificial marker - it's been used since the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt - it is not surprising that it is too early to reach sweeping conclusions about what this presidency will be. It is worth remembering that Jimmy Carter, whose presidency would become deeply troubled by his second year, ended his first 100 days with high approval ratings and positive media coverage.

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April 6th, 2009
10:29 AM ET

A surprising model for Obama

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Julian E. Zelizer
Special to CNN

While pundits have compared President Obama to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, less attention has been paid to another, perhaps more apt parallel - Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Sometimes the similarities are striking. Both aimed high, seeking major legislation to reshape America - Johnson with civil rights and Medicare, Obama with health care and energy legislation. Both Johnson and Obama understood that Congress was a credit-claiming institution whose members did not like to have proposals rammed down their throats.

Johnson's style of political leadership was famous. A creature of the Senate, Johnson loved to lean on legislators and intimidate them into supporting his agenda.

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March 30th, 2009
08:51 AM ET

Big risks if Obama acts boldly

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Julian E. Zelizer
Special to CNN

Americans are usually uninterested in legislative procedure. The technical rules that govern the House and Senate are of little concern to average citizens except for those rare moments when procedures become tied up with major policy battles.

Older Americans may remember, when in the early 1960s, many citizens watched as southern Democrats filibustered civil rights legislation in 1964 until Illinois Republican Everett Dirksen backed President Johnson by ending the debate through a procedure known as cloture.

Congressional procedure is in the news once again. President Obama is thinking about using the budget reconciliation process, which prohibits a filibuster, to push through the Senate the many proposals that he introduced to Congress in last month's address.

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March 23rd, 2009
08:10 AM ET

AIG mess an American tradition

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Julian E. Zelizer
Special to CNN

In the explosion of outrage over the AIG executive bonus scandal, each party has hurled charges at the other. Both parties are blaming each other for rejecting measures that would have limited executive bonuses.

A few Republicans have called for the resignation of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner - with efforts to paint him as the Michael Brown of this administration - and President Obama is promising that this week he will outline more stringent requirements for the financial world.

These partisan accusations miss a bigger factor behind last's week's revelations - America's middle-way in dealing with business-government relations. In many ways, the bonus scandal was utterly predictable and would likely have happened regardless of which party was in power. And if history is a guide, the populist outrage over the bonuses may not fundamentally change the federal government's relationship to private business.

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Filed under: AIG • Bailout Turmoil • Economy • Finance • Julian E. Zelizer
March 9th, 2009
10:21 AM ET

Is it Obama's economy yet?

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Julian E. Zelizer
Special to CNN

President Obama currently has the polls on his side. In numerous surveys, Americans have said they are pleased with Obama's performance thus far and confident the president can fix the economy, acknowledging this will take some time.

The political question for the White House is how long those poll numbers will last. At some point, the "Bush Economy" is going to become the "Obama Economy."

When that happens, Obama will be in serious political trouble unless the economy has turned around. Republicans will be able to argue that the administration's plans are not working and this perception will greatly diminish public support for the White House.


February 9th, 2009
11:36 AM ET

Obama's 100 days of problems?

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Julian E. Zelizer
Special to CNN

Tomorrow marks the end of the third week of President Barack Obama's Hundred Days. After what can only be described as a euphoric inauguration, Obama has encountered some trouble.

Despite his effort to court Republicans in the House, he failed to obtain a single GOP vote for the economic recovery package.

The Senate is moving toward an expected passage of a similar stimulus bill, obtaining the crucial support of three Republican senators only by cutting spending by tens of billions.

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February 3rd, 2009
08:56 AM ET

Obama's ethics vow at risk

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Julian E. Zelizer
Special to CNN

The appointment process which started out so smoothly for President Obama has turned into a problem.

Several picks undermine Obama's campaign promise to change how Washington works.

The troika of Bill Richardson, Tom Daschle and Timothy Geithner raises questions about Obama's commitment to making government reform central to his presidency.

The news from these appointments has been disturbing for many Americans.


Filed under: Barack Obama • Julian E. Zelizer • Raw Politics
November 24th, 2008
03:00 PM ET

Bush should do something to stop crisis

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Julian E. Zelizer
Special to CNN

Editor's Note: Julian E. Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School. He is the co-editor of "Rightward Bound: Making America Conservative in the 1970s" and is completing a book on the history of national-security politics since World War II, to be published by Basic Books.

The lame-duck president is believed to be one of the more impotent figures in American politics - a commander in chief who is unable to do much because he lacks political muscle.

Legislators know he'll be out of power after January 20. Very often the lame-duck president is deeply unpopular and has lost most goodwill even from members of his own party.

This is certainly the case for President George W. Bush. The president finishes his term as one of the most unpopular presidents in modern history. Democrats won control of Congress in 2006 and this year, they expanded the size of their majority significantly.

There is still the potential for a filibuster-proof Senate. Pundits, including some conservatives, feel the coalition Ronald Reagan built in 1980 has fallen apart. Bush was the captain of the Republican Titanic as it sank.

But Bush does not have to sit on his hands until January 20. Despite the conventional wisdom, lame-duck presidents can be effective.


Filed under: Julian E. Zelizer • Raw Politics
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