History Buzz May 16, 2013: Julian Zelizer on President Barack Obama stands against flurry of scandal

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History Buzz

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Obama stands against flurry of scandal

Source: Globe & Mail, 5-16-13

…But second-term stumbles could be the mark of a bright future, according to Princeton University history and public affairs professor Julian Zelizer.

“Second-term presidents who have had scandals have gone on to do big things after,” he said. “Reagan had Iran-Contra but he ended up negotiating an end to the Cold War. … [Bill] Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives but went on to have surpluses, mount a military offensive in Yugoslavia and is one of the most popular presidents. Even George Bush, who was very unpopular and had his own scandals, ended up with the passage of [a financial bailout].”

Prof. Zelizer added: “It’s much too early to count [the President] out, not only in terms of survival but in terms of what he can accomplish. There’s still a lot of space for him to be more than just a lame duck.”…READ MORE

Featured Historians February 25, 2013: Julian Zelizer: If spending is cut, GOP will get the blame

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HISTORY OP-EDS

If spending is cut, GOP will get the blame

Source: Julian Zelizer, CNN, 2-25-13

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Julian Zelizer: Washington’s budget fight will grab public’s attention if no deal reached
  • He says painful cuts will lead the public to blame Republicans for Washington’s dysfunction
  • Americans don’t like government spending in general but like specific programs, he says
  • Zelizer: GOP needs to rethink its reliance on deficit reduction as a prime strategy

Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of “Jimmy Carter” and “Governing America.”

Until now “sequestration” has been a word that only means something to people living inside the Beltway or to political junkies who depend on their daily dose of Politico and The Hill. But if Congress and the president do not reach a deal by March 1, which appears likely, Americans will quickly learn what it means — namely deep spending cuts….READ MORE

State of the Union 2013 February 11, 2013: Julian Zelizer: Obama, think big for State of the Union

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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PRESIDENT OBAMA — STATE OF THE UNION 2013:

THE HEADLINES….

Obama, think big for State of the Union

Source: Julian, Zelizer, CNN, 2-11-13
President Obama delivers the State of the Union address to Congress in 2012.

President Obama delivers the State of the Union address to Congress in 2012.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Julian Zelizer: Obama delivers first State of the Union of second term
  • He says it’s an opportunity for president to sketch a broad vision for U.S.
  • Speech comes at a time of continuing economic troubles in America, he says
  • Zelizer: Obama can follow in the footsteps of FDR and LBJ

Editor’s note: Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of “Jimmy Carter” and of “Governing America.”

President Obama is set to deliver the first State of the Union Address of his new term. On Tuesday evening, he will step before a joint session of Congress and a nation in difficult times.

Unemployment rose in January to 7.9%. There are signs of economic progress, but millions of Americans are struggling to find a job while others are desperate to keep the one they have….READ MORE

History Buzz January 31, 2013: Matt Wasniewski: House of Representatives Historian Launches Website

HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAP

History Buzz

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House of Representatives Historian Launches Website

Source: ABC News, 1-31-13

US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives — www.history.house.gov/

Discover the rich heritage of “the People’s House” and its central role in U.S. history since 1789. Explore its unique story and the men and women who have shaped it. Browse its collections. Access historical data and other research resources.

Top Newsmakers Profile: Matthew A. Wasniewski, 10-21-10, by Bonnie K. Goodman 

PHOTO: One of the most innovative and daring politicians of the 20th century was also a triskaidekaphobe. Franklin D. Roosevelt would not travel when the 13th fell on a Friday. Along with Napoleon, J. Paul Getty and Herbert Hoover, he was one of history's

One of the most innovative and daring politicians of the 20th century was also a triskaidekaphobe. Franklin D. Roosevelt would not travel when the 13th fell on a Friday. Along with Napoleon, J. Paul Getty and Herbert Hoover, he was one of history’s great triskaidekaphobes. (FPG/Getty Images)

Looks like the House of Representatives has officially caught up with the times.

Imagine it is Dec. 8, 1941. President Franklin D. Roosevelt has just addressed Congress in order to request declaration of war after Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.

Which congressman fought in favor of war and who was vehemently against it?

You don’t need to head to a museum to find out. A new website allows history buffs to hear the arguments and first-hand accounts of these events in the comfort of their own living rooms.

The Office of the House Historian and Clerk of the House’s Office of Art and Archives together launched the website, which provides a roundup on the nearly 11,000 members who’ve served in the House, on Dec. 28. The website contains nearly 1,000 items in its database that consists of everything House-related — from wonky photos to vintage furniture to congressional baseball cards….READ MORE

Featured Historians January 20, 2013: Julian Zelizer: Obama’s speech: Learning from Lincoln, Wilson, FDR

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HISTORY OP-EDS

Obama’s speech: Learning from Lincoln, Wilson, FDR

Source: Julian Zelizer, CNN, 1-20-13

Watch this video

1865: Lincoln talks of ‘sin of slavery’

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

    • Julian Zelizer: Second term inaugural addresses are always a challenge
    • He says the public has had four years to make a judgment about the president
    • Obama can learn from second term speeches of Lincoln, Wilson, FDR
    • Zelizer says they did a good job of unifying America and sketching vision of the future

Editor’s note: Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of “Jimmy Carter” and of “Governing America.”

The second inaugural address is always more difficult than the first. When a president-elect first steps onto the national stage, he still enjoys a certain degree of innocence and hope. Americans are waiting to see if the new president will be different. When a new president delivers his speech, voters don’t yet have a record that might make them cynical.

But by the second term, voters are familiar, and often tired, with the occupant of the White House. Even though they liked him more than his opponents, the president has usually been through some pretty tough battles and his limitations have been exposed. It becomes much harder to deliver big promises, when the people watching have a much clearer sense of your limitations and of the strength of your opponents.

So President Barack Obama faces a big test when he appears before the nation Monday….READ MORE

History Buzz January 17, 2013: Michael Kazin: A Short History of Meaningless Inauguration Speeches

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History Buzz

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A Short History of Meaningless Inauguration Speeches

Source: TNR, 1-17-13 

Here’s a bit of advice when considering Barack Obama second inaugural address on January 21: Don’t take anything he says very seriously.

For all the hype they receive, inaugural addresses rarely foretell what a president will accomplish in office. In fact, the men who utter grand principles and make big promises every four years often contradict them, willingly or not, soon after they begin their terms. Take a few of the more celebrated quotations:

We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.” — Thomas Jefferson

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.” – Abraham Lincoln

First of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt 

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” — John F. Kennedy

READ MORE

Featured Historians December 17, 2012 Beverly Gage: Things Can Change on the Sandy Hook School Shooting

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HISTORY OP-EDS

Things Can Change

A century ago, there were forms of brutal violence considered so thoroughly American that they could never be banished. Today, they no longer exist.

Source: Beverly Gage, Slate, 12-17-12 

Beverly Gage, a Yale history professor, is the author of The Day Wall Street Exploded.

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People gather at a memorial for victims near the school on the first Sunday following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 16, 2012 in Newtown, Conn.Photograph by Mario Tama/Getty Images.

Read the rest of Slate’s coverage of the Sandy Hook school shooting.

In 1985, when I was 13 years old, a woman suffering from schizophrenia brought a semiautomatic rifle to our local mall and began shooting. This was the mall where I picked out clothes from the Gap, where I sat for photos with Santa Claus as a toddler, where kids my age were just starting to hang out and flaunt their independence. The woman, 25-year-old Sylvia Seegrist, killed three people, including a 2-year-old child, and shot several others before being subdued by a man who thought she was shooting blanks. When asked why she had done it, Seegrist said, bizarrely, that “my family makes me nervous.” In other words, there was no reason at all.

As a middle-schooler, I registered the event only in the haziest terms: I knew something terrible had happened, I was glad it hadn’t happened to me, and I figured the adults would take care of the rest. Now, as an adult, what seems shocking is just how little was done. There were calls for keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, for better treatment and commitment laws, for more restrictive gun control, for greater community vigilance to identify people prone to violence. But none of it, apparently, mattered quite enough. Fourteen years after the Springfield Mall shooting came Columbine, then Virginia Tech, and now Sandy Hook Elementary.

Like millions of other heartsick people, I am inclined to despair at this list, to think that though all of this must change, it never will. But as a historian I am reminded that change often comes slowly, and with great pain and effort. A century ago, there were forms of graphic, brutal violence considered so thoroughly American that they could never be banished from the national landscape. Today they no longer exist. In the story of how these changes happened, there may be a model—or a least a bit of hope—for the present….READ MORE

Campaign Headlines October 2, 2012: Julian Zelizer: The mistakes candidates make in debates

CAMPAIGN 2012

CAMPAIGN BUZZ 2012

THE HEADLINES….

The mistakes candidates make in debates

Source: Julian Zelizer, CNN, 10-2-12

Watch this video

Best moments from presidential debates

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

    • Julian Zelizer: Top priority for candidates in debates is to avoid mistakes
    • He says gaffes have the potential to change how voters view a candidate
    • Candidates are viewed not only for what they say but for their body language, he says
    • Zelizer: Obama, Romney will be under a microscope Wednesday night when the debates begin

Editor’s note: Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of “Jimmy Carter” and of the new book “Governing America.”

(CNN) — Commentators usually make too much of presidential debates. Social science data consistently show that there are very few presidential debates that make a huge difference in the dynamics of a campaign — other than a few exceptions where the race was incredibly narrow, as in 1960 or 2000, and the performance of candidates had some impact.

Regardless of whether they are game-changers, the presidential debates are still an important part of the broader narrative about each candidate that voters evaluate when they step into the voting booth in November.

More important than doing well is avoiding mistakes. Particularly in the current age of YouTube and nightly political news comedy, any slip-up can become fodder for the 24-hour news cycle. The last thing that a candidate wants to do is provide material for the “Saturday Night Live” comedy writers who are eagerly preparing for the next show.

The mistakes the presidential candidates have made over the years are numerous. Poor body language has been a common blunder. As much as candidates focus on perfecting the substance of what they say before the cameras, a large number of Americans are really most interested to see how they say it….READ MORE

History Buzz August 11, 2012: Julian Zelizer: How Ryan Could Help Romney

HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAP

History Buzz

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Julian Zelizer: How Ryan could help Romney

Source: CNN, 8-11-12

Mitt Romney has taken many people by surprise by announcing that his vice presidential running mate will be Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan. The decision excites many conservatives who have been calling on Romney to go big. They believe Ryan will inject some juice into a campaign they feel has been lackluster and put the focus on the policy differences between Romney and President Obama.

The primary risk with Ryan, from what we currently know about him, is that his controversial budget plan and tough line on Medicare could energize liberals and alienate elderly voters in key states like Florida. He also lacks foreign policy expertise and has spent most of his career in the city that conservatives hate, Washington. In recent decades, the record of vice presidential running mates who have come right out of the House is not very good….READ MORE

History Buzz March 9, 2012: Julian Zelizer: Dual life as scholar, mainstream news pundit

HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAP

History Buzz

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Zelizer: Dual life as scholar, mainstream news pundit

Source: Daily Princetonian, 3-9-12

Related: Top Newsmakers: This Week… Julian Zelizer: Assessing the Bush Presidency & “Decision Points” in the Media, Edited by Bonnie K. Goodman, HNN, 10-11-10

Photo by Ananda Zhu
History and Wilson School professor Julian Zelizer has appeared 18 times on Bloomberg television in the past month.

Like many American fathers, after Wilson School professor Julian Zelizer wakes up in the morning, he takes his kids to school and then heads to the gym. But instead of watching sports highlights or listening to music while he lifts weights, Zelizer mulls over ideas for his weekly CNN column.

It is rare for professors to appear in mass media as much as Zelizer does. In addition to teaching HIS 583: Readings in American Political History this semester, Zelizer has appeared 18 times on Bloomberg television in the past month. On Sept. 10, he authored a column in The New York Times about the history of one-term presidents. Two days later, he was back in his home outlet, penning away on the political legacy of 9/11.

Throughout his tenure as a professor, Zelizer has made somewhat of a career out of radio, television and opinion political commentaries. He has established his status as a public intellectual in the pundit-dominated world of media.

Zelizer’s commentary focuses on contemporary politics, and he said that he often tries to put current events in historical perspectives for viewers or readers.

“So what’s going on in the elections now? Have we seen some of this before, or what can we learn from the past? That’s usually what people want me for,” Zelizer said.

Zelizer, whose mother Viviana Zelizer is a sociology professor at the University, grew up in what he described as an academic family. During his undergraduate years at Brandeis University, he developed a passion for politics and began to aspire to a career in which he could learn and teach about politics.

According to Zelizer, his first media appearance was a completely chance occurrence. During his first academic job as a professor of history and public policy at SUNY Albany, a local television network reached out to him for comment on the ongoing impeachment of President Bill Clinton.

“One of the local televisions was putting a panel together on the issue on campus, and they invited me to appear,” Zelizer said. “They kept having me back after that.”

The media’s requests for Zelizer to appear continued, and were occasionally beyond the purview of his primary area of expertise. In what he said was “the single outlier” in his long history of political commentary, Zelizer made a series of appearances on the local production of Monday Night Football.

“I was at a restaurant bar, and they were doing a local sports show live,” Zelizer said. “The football host said, ‘Does anyone here like the New York Jets?’ which is my favorite team, and I raised my hand.”

“They had so much fun with the [idea of a] professor who knew so much about football, and for several years I would go every Monday … and [do] these 15-minute clips on the professor taking calls about the NY Jets.”

While he said he remembered the incident, as funny stories, these appearances actually helped solidify his presence as a media mainstay.

As he began making more and more political commentary in the public sphere, Zelizer noticed that his work in the media bolstered his skills as a professor.

“It sometimes helps with my teaching, because when you are on a radio show or write op-ed, there’s a certain amount of clarity you need to achieve,” Zelizer said.

While on the air, he said, he needs to be succinct and cannot expect his audience to be familiar with the issues he is discussing. These skills are transferrable to the classroom.

“When I come into the classroom, it’s helped me to really think through the assumptions I have about what students know and help me be clear on some of the big issues,” Zelizer said.

Additionally, he noted that his weekly column for CNN has helped him get in the habit of writing consistently, which has perhaps made the process of writing eight published books considerably more manageable.

Zelizer’s combination of scholarship and media appearances has produced a synergy effect, according to politics professor Martin Gilens, who is teaching POL 327: Mass Media and American Politics this semester.

“Good scholarship takes substantial time and effort,” Gilens said. “But scholarship in the social sciences and humanities can be strengthened by the discipline of thinking broadly about public issues and about the implications of academic insights for matters of public importance.”

Gilens said that Zelizer’s commentary has provided the public with access to thoughtful, well-informed commentary on the important issues facing the country and the world.

“So much ‘punditry’ these days is ignorant or partisan or both,” Gilens said. “Professor Zelizer’s ability to bring his insights as a political historian to a wider public audience makes an important contribution to the quality of the public debate.”

Zelizer said that he does not have any trouble balancing his public appearances with his teaching and responsibilities at the University. He said he usually teaches courses on subjects that he is working on at the moment and added that he normally teaches three courses a year.

Last semester, Zelizer taught WWS 460: The Great Society and Social Policymaking and WWS 529: Great Leadership in Historical Perspective, a course open to graduate students in the Wilson School about the leadership styles of people who have been successful in politics.

Julia Blount ’12, a history major who has Zelizer as her thesis advisor, said that Zelizer successfully balances his life as an academic and a commentator.

“I don’t think that his involvement in the media has influenced the way he has advised my thesis at all, at least not in terms of the content of the feedback he provides,” Blount said. “It quickly became clear to me that his involvement in the fast-paced world of the media has made him one of the most responsive professors on campus in terms of returning emails … which I really appreciate.”

Another advantage that Zelizer’s public profile brings to the University is a deep Rolodex of public figures who are sometimes difficult to get in contact with. Among the guests Zelizer has helped bring to campus are a filmmaker who made a documentary on AIDS in Africa and the mayor of Philadelphia, who spoke to the campus community about urban politics and poverty.

“It has been effective that I get to bring interesting people for the students to meet,” said Zelizer, who often speaks on campus and in the local community himself, usually about elections or his research.

Zelizer said that his greatest assets are his passion for the subjects he works with and his efficiency in getting work done.

“I like to work in my office,” Zelizer said. “I love to be here. If I have class, I prepare for it. If I’m writing, I work on the book I’m working on a little bit.”

Throughout the process of writing the 300 editorials, 13 books and numerous academic papers he has published during his time as a professor at the University, Zelizer has developed specific writing techniques and strategies.

“Being methodical is a very important strategy,” Zelizer said. “It’s not you sitting on the top of the mountain and it all comes out; you have to sit down and think through what you want to do. Every day, I kind of build this up.”

Though becoming such a visible public figure was something he said he never anticipated, he noted that he is very satisfied with his dual roles as a University professor and public intellectual.

“I feel fortunate to have this job,” Zelizer said. “When I started, I thought [the media] was a one-time thing; I never pursued it. It’s been a pleasure to write. It’s an honor to participate in public life.”

History Op-eds February 17, 2012: Jules Witcover A brokered convention?

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A brokered convention?

The winnowing process in the Republican presidential nomination race has reduced the field to four candidates — Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich– each of whom has a legitimate rationale to keep going.Mr. Romney continues to have the most money and largest field organization. Mr. Santorum has recent, if modest, primary or caucus successes to sustain him. Mr. Gingrich has his immense ego and a rabid following to drive him on. And Mr. Paul has his own goal of advancing a libertarian strain in the Republican Party quite apart from achieving the nomination, and an idealistic and undaunted youth brigade behind him.

With Mr. Romney failing to gain clear majorities of voters in the contests to date, and with no message that seems to promise a broader constituency, there’s no reason for the other candidates to fold up. The free televised debates, though temporarily in suspension, will resume soon, enabling them to remain visible to millions of voters.

Between now and the next primaries in Arizona and Michigan on Feb. 28, the super-PACs supporting Mr. Romney and Mr. Gingrich can be expected to fire a host of negative advertising at Mr. Santorum. The latest New York Times/CBS News survey has him at 30 percent support to 27 percent for Mr. Romney, 12 percent for Mr. Paul and only 10 percent for Mr. Gingrich.

The former House speaker has been fading so fast that ordinarily a candidate in his straits would be expected to drop out soon. But Mr. Gingrich has vowed to stay in the race into the convention, and a combination of more impressive debate performances and his immense self-assurance could well keep him going.

So what happens if this quartet of presidential wannabes hangs in, with none of them catching fire but each of them picking up a share of the national convention delegates as the process proceeds? With many states allocating them in proportion to the percentage of votes won in the primaries and caucuses, split decisions in many states seem entirely possible….READ MORE

History Buzz February 9, 2012: Dr. Boyce Watkins: What is President Obama’s Role in Black History?

HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAP

History Buzz

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What is President Obama’s Role in Black History?

As I’ve run around the country giving Black History Month speeches, I’ve been thinking a great deal about where we are and where we are going as a community; I’ve also been asked about President Barack Obama’s role in Black history. Since the 44th president’s existence has been entirely complex and phenomenal — all at the same time — that becomes an extremely tough question to answer.

The first Black POTUS has always been considered the holy grail of African American achievements.  Most of us didn’t think we’d have a Black president for another 100 years.  We also didn’t consider the fact that the first Black president could have easily been a Republican (Former Secretary of State Colin Powell). Yet here we are, with some of us having more access to power than we’ve ever had before, and it’s turning into a mess.

One of the great challenges of being Black in America is that we sometimes become heavily dependent on our historical oppressors to validate our success.  We forget that the most successful African American on the plantation was not the one who made it into the big house; it was actually the one who escaped.

African Americans contributed heavily to the success of the Obama presidential campaign, but millions of white Americans had to give their stamp of approval before he was allowed into office.  So, to consider the first Black president to be the most accomplished African American in history moves us dangerously close to saying that getting approval from white America somehow makes you into a better human being.

Another thing we must be careful about is comparing Barack Obama to Martin Luther King, Jr. Not that one (a Civil Rights Activist) is better than the other (President of the United States), but in many cases, they are diametrically opposed.  No one can say what the relationship between Dr. King and President Obama would be if King were alive, but given that one of them (Dr. King) spoke endlessly about the ills of poverty, militarism and racial inequality, it’s not hard to imagine that the two might be at odds with one another…READ MORE

Featured Historian Matthew Dallek: Mitt Romney is no George Romney

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Matthew Dallek: Mitt Romney is no George Romney

Source: Politico, 12-1-11

George Romney (center) gave his wife Lenore and son Mitt 14 (left), an affectionate hug at a Detroit news conference February 10, 1962 after he announced he would seek the Republican nomination for Governor of Michigan. | AP Photo

Romney has claimed that his greatest political inspiration was George Romney, the author says. | AP Photo Close

Mitt Romney is casting himself as the lone Washington outsider in the Republican presidential field with the best shot at defeating President Barack Obama. He describes former House Speaker Newt Gingrich as a “lifelong politician” who “spent his last 30 or 40 years in Washington.” He labeled another rival, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, as a career politician. Romney insists that, in contrast, he had “spent most of my life outside of politics.”

“Career politicians got us into this mess,” Romney said, “and they simply don’t know how to get us out.”

Romney’s complaint could well be his most hypocritical to date. For it belies an inconvenient reality that Romney’s father spent much of his adult life inside politics — as a liberal moderate in the Republican Party. George Romney was a three-term Michigan governor, ran for president in 1968 and served in the first Nixon administration as secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Romney also led a grass-roots campaign in Michigan to reform its constitution.

That résumé suggests just one aspect of Romney’s judicious devotion to the politics of governmental reform. He consistently harnessed the power of the state to lift up citizens’ lives — sharply contrasting with his son’s repeated denunciations of “career politicians” and Big Government liberals as failed economic stewards.

We’ve seen this cognitive dissonance before. Just as George W. Bush famously divorced himself from his father’s moderate GOP legacy, Mitt Romney is now skating past his father’s largely liberal Republican record in his rush to stand on the right of the Republican spectrum.

Yet Romney has claimed that his greatest political inspiration was George Romney. He told The New York Times in 2007 that running for president made him feel like a member of “a relay team where the baton passed from generation to generation.”…READ MORE

Matthew Dallek, an associate academic director of the University of California Washington Center, is the author of “The Right Moment: Ronald Reagan’s First Victory and the Decisive Turning Point in American Politics.”

Featured Historian Julian Zelizer: What Newt Gingrich offers the GOP

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Julian Zelizer: What Newt Gingrich offers the GOP

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich drew a great deal of attention in the CNN National Security Debate on Tuesday.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich drew a great deal of attention in the CNN National Security Debate on Tuesday.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Newt Gingrich got the endorsement of the New Hampshire Union Leader
  • Julian Zelizer says Gingrich aids GOP by putting focus on what it should stand for
  • Gingrich has been more successful at promoting ideas than in leadership roles, he says
  • Zelizer: Gingrich unlikely to win, but his impact will be felt

Newt Gingrich’s candidacy received an unexpected boost when New Hampshire’s Union Leader endorsed him this weekend.

The publisher wrote: “We are in critical need of the innovative, forward-looking strategy and positive leadership that Gingrich has shown he is capable of providing. He did so with the Contract with America. He did it in bringing in the first Republican House in 40 years and by forging balanced budgets and even a surplus despite the political challenge of dealing with a Democratic President.”

Say what you will about Gingrich, but he thrives when it comes to the politics of ideas. Gingrich, a former history professor, is extraordinarily comfortable when it comes to vigorous and open debates about the ideas of conservatism.

Julian Zelizer

Julian Zelizer

Rarely satisfied with the status quo, Gingrich likes to try pushing the boundaries of what his party stands for. “People overvalue money and undervalue ideas,” Gingrich recently told one newspaper. “That’s part of the core gamble of this campaign. I actually think ideas matter.”

His candidacy comes at a time when Republicans have not devoted much time to intellectual introspection. For decades, the party became comfortable with the privileges of power.

Republicans spent more time focusing on how they wanted to use their power and protect their political position than on talking about the ideas that the party stood for….

He will stimulate other candidates to join in these kinds of debates, thinking through what the party should stand for. This would help them make a more compelling case to voters for their candidacy — beyond simply not being Obama. This is especially important amid the dysfunction in government that keeps Washington from doing much about anything.

The idea man has an important role in American politics, even if he himself is unable to win office.

Gingrich fills that role, giving Republicans a candidate who is thinking more seriously about what the party is trying to accomplish and how to command the loyalty of voters for years to come.

Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of “Jimmy Carter” (Times Books) and author of the forthcoming book “Governing America” (Princeton University Press).

Featured Historian Julian E. Zelizer: What happened to spirit of 9/12?

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What happened to spirit of 9/12?

Former President George W. Bush, first lady Michelle Obama and President Barack Obama at the 9/11 Memorial in New York during the 1oth anniversary observance.
Former President George W. Bush, first lady Michelle Obama and President Barack Obama at the 9/11 Memorial in New York during the 1oth anniversary observance.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Julian Zelizer: Politicians of both parties pledged to work together after 9/11
  • He says that bipartisan spirit after attacks evaporated quickly
  • Zelizer says Democrats, GOP clashed over status of TSA workers
  • He says partisan forces too powerful for most politicians to overcome

Julian E. Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of “Jimmy Carter” (Times Books) and editor of a book assessing former President George W. Bush’s administration, published by Princeton University Press.

In the days following the horrendous attacks against the United States on 9/11, all the talk in Washington was about the need for bipartisanship. Republicans and Democrats promised that they would work together to protect the home front and capture those who were responsible.

On the day after, Democrats and Republicans followed the traditional post-military crisis ritual of promising to work on policies in bipartisan fashion. New York Sen. Hillary Clinton — who was still struggling to gain her sea legs in her first year on Capitol Hill, after having spent eight years serving as the first lady during some bruising partisan battles — announced that it was important to be “united behind our president and our government, sending a very clear message that this is something that transcends any political consideration or partisanship.”

Republicans also promised political peace. House Speaker Dennis Hastert assured the nation that “we are in complete agreement that we will work together, that we want to share information, that we will be ready to move on whatever the president suggests, and we will go through the debate and the actions of Congress in a bipartisan way to make that happen.” The kind of partisan sniping that voters were accustomed to, he and his colleagues said, would be a thing of the past.

The political question on September 12 was how long this unity would last: Would the worst terrorist attack ever on American soil really transform the politics of national security?

Ten years later, it is evident that the answer was clearly no. The period of good feelings did not last long. One of the most striking aspects of 9/11 was that even a tragedy of this scale could not tame the partisan forces that shape American politics….

Could the promise of September 12 ever be fulfilled? Certainly today there are enormous areas of consensus between the parties, such as over most counterterrorism policies, over the need for strong homeland security programs and even for strong military vigilance with countries such as North Korea and Pakistan.

Nonetheless, the partisan forces that play out on the campaign trail are simply too great to overcome. If 9/11 taught us anything, it’s how deeply rooted partisanship is in our modern political culture. Even a tragedy of its magnitude could barely contain the forces that perpetually rip apart members of the two parties.

Ten years ago, the parties came together. But they came together just for a brief spell. In the long span of history, it was as if the moment ended before either side could even blink.

Featured Historians Tevi Troy: What’s Obama Reading?

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What’s Obama Reading?

Source: National Review Online, 8-23-11

On this summer’s presidential book list, fiction trumps reality.

Tevi TroyThe reports are in about the books President Obama is looking at on his annual trip to Martha’s Vineyard. According to reports from the Los Angeles Times and the AP, Obama purchased five books on his trip to the Vineyard bookseller Bunch of Grapes: Marianna Baer’s Frost, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Daniel Woodrell’s Bayou Trilogy, Emma Donoghue’s Room, and Ward Just’s Rodin’s Debutante.

The second wave came when, according to Alexis Simendinger, White House aides listed for reporters the three books Obama brought with him to the Vineyard: two more novels — Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone and David Grossman’s To the End of the Land — and one nonfiction work — Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration.

Assuming that Brave New World and Frostare for his daughters, this leaves six books that are presumably for presidential consumption, and they may constitute the oddest assortment of presidential reading material ever disclosed, for a number of reasons. First, five of the six are novels, and the near-absence of nonfiction sends the wrong message for any president, because it sets him up for the charge that he is out of touch with reality.Sure enough, the list has already prompted this accusation. As Reuters described his selections, “President Barack Obama, perhaps seeking a break from harsh reality after a tough summer battling the economy and Republicans in Congress, has picked a summer reading list that is long on fiction.”

Beyond the issue of fiction vs. nonfiction, there is also the question of genre. The Bayou Trilogy has received excellent reviews, but it is a mystery series. While there is nothing wrong with that per se, not every presidential reading selection is worth revealing to the public. Bill Clinton, for example, used to love mysteries, but he did not advertise the titles of what he once called “my little cheap thrills outlet.” Room is another well-received novel, but it is about a mother and child trapped in an 11-by-11-foot room. This claustrophobic adventure does not strike me as the right choice for someone trying to escape the perception that he is trapped in a White House bubble.

The Grossman novel, which is about an Israeli woman who hikes to avoid hearing bad news about her soldier son, could create complications for Obama on the Israel front. Grossman is a well-known critic of Israeli policy towards the Palestinians, so reading this novel will likely not assuage those concerned about Obama’s views on the Middle East.

While the fiction-heavy aspect of the list is something new, the liberal authors should come as no surprise. Obama, like other Democratic presidents, has tended to read mainly liberal books, although he could stand to gain some insight from conservative ones. There could be many reasons for his selection bias, but buying his books at the “legendary” Bunch of Grapes probably is not helping matters. While I have never had the pleasure of shopping there, the store’s website highlights a variety of its offerings, with nary a conservative work. There may be some on the shelves there somewhere, but they are probably not staring Obama in the face when he visits the store.

According to the results of my completely unscientific survey of Bunch of Grapes’s website, Laura Ingraham’s Of Thee I Zing, Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism, and Mark Steyn’s After America were listed as available for online ordering. Thomas Friedman’s Hot, Flat, and Crowded, which appeared as an Obama book selection twice, in 2008 and 2009, was listed as “In Stock.” This is not meant as a criticism of the bookseller; Bunch of Grapes is running a business, and they need to cater to the liberal crowd at Martha’s Vineyard in order to bring in customers. At the same time, if Obama wants to diversify his reading selections, Bunch of Grapes may not be the place to go.

This year’s list suggests that Obama needs to consider the messages sent by his reading more carefully. According to Mickey Kaus, the Obama list is “heavy on the wrenching stories of immigrant experiences, something the President already knows quite a bit about.” For this reason, Kaus feels that the list reveals an intellectually incurious president. Either that, or it is “a bit of politicized PR BS designed to help the President out.” In that case, he notes, “it’s sending the wrong message.” Either way, the annual book list should be a relatively easy way to make the president appear to be on top of things and in control. This year’s list, alas, reveals a president who appears to be neither.

— Tevi Troy is senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a former senior White House aide. He is the author of Intellectuals and the American Presidency: Philosophers, Jesters, or Technicians?

Featured Historians Julian E. Zelizer: It’s too early to name Bachmann, Perry front-runners

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Julian E. Zelizer: It’s too early to name Bachmann, Perry front-runners

Source: Julian E. Zelizer, CNN, 8-22-11

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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • No votes have been cast, but some Republicans have been declared front-runners
  • Julian Zelizer: Activists, media and donors usurping presidential selection process
  • He says Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry have been elevated to front-runner status
  • Candidates with less appeal to partisan voters are losing out, Zelizer says

Julian E. Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of “Jimmy Carter” (Times Books) and editor of a book assessing former President George W. Bush’s administration, published by Princeton University Press.

The meteoric rise of Rep. Michele Bachman and Texas Gov. Rick Perry in the competition for the GOP presidential nomination — combined with the rapid demise of Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s presidential bid — all before any caucus or primary has taken place, reveals how the presidential selection process is broken.

Pawlenty was a candidate who might have appealed to a broader selection of voters outside the Republican base. Bachman and Perry are less likely to do so.

Bachman’s victory in the Iowa straw poll, which is merely a measure of a small number of people who attended a fundraising dinner in Ames, was enough to propel her into the position of a front-runner. The straw poll, which Jimmy Carter famously used in 1976 to gain momentum as the dark horse candidate in a primary contest against well- known Democrats, has now turned into a decisive event that can make or break candidates. But in Carter’s case the straw poll only made him a name people recognized; he still had to win some caucuses and primaries to prove himself.

The increasingly rapid selection process, with more and more vetting taking place before the voting begins, is an acceleration of problems that have been affecting the primary and caucus system for decades…..

While early vetting can be useful, too much decision-making now takes place before the voting begins. Decisions are being made on the thinnest of measures that do not necessarily reflect what voters in the party would prefer, or who might be the strongest campaigner or president, as much as on who reporters find interesting or which candidate fundraisers perceive as stronger bets.

The fate of Pawlenty reveals the potential costs of this system. Even though he came across poorly in two debates, he may represent a more moderate, and politically mainstream view, than Bachmann — and he has much more governing experience.

In the early 1970s, political reformers realized that the candidate selection system was broken and that this hurt the democratic process. In 2011, the time has come to re-examine the process again and to figure out how the views of mainstream voters can be brought back into presidential politics.

Featured Historians Tevi Troy: What books are the GOP 2012 contenders reading?

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What books are the GOP 2012 contenders reading?

Source: Tevi Troy, WaPo, 8-19-11

When Democratic politicians brag about the books they read, they usually highlight big-name New-York-Times-bestseller-list kind of works. Think Thomas Friedman’s “The World is Flat ,” David McCullough’s biographies, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals” and anything by David Brooks.

Reading these books declares: “I’m an intellectual! I think big thoughts!” They’re politically unimpeachable picks, sure, but also predictable and, in that sense, a little bit boring.

The top of the ticket proves the point. Although President Obama may occasionally bust out David Mitchell’s “The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet,” he sticks to — in public at least — works such as Fareed Zakaria’s “The Post-American World,” which he was photographed carrying around during the 2008 campaign; Edmund Morris’s “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt,” which he read during the health-care reform debates; and Joseph O’Neill’s “Netherland,” which he read in the heat of the financial crisis in 2009. And Vice President Biden’s list includes Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers,” Peter Beinart’s “The Icarus Syndrome,” James Traub’s “The Freedom Agenda” and, of course, Brooks’s “The Social Animal.”

The reading lists matter. Books can communicate candidates’ intellectual predilections and policy preferences, but they also humanize them. When voters hear that a potential leader of the free world enjoys a book they’ve read, it forges a connection.

When you turn to some of the GOP 2012 presidential hopefuls, a very different book club materializes. Their preferred titles, assuming they in fact do read them (an open question with all politicians), suggest a more wide-ranging and surprising — even a little eccentric — intellectual field:

MICHELE BACHMANN — THE CONVERTED CONSERVATIVE

The Minnesota congresswoman has talked up the influence of the writings of the Austrian economic heavyweight Ludwig von Mises, as well as American free marketers such as Walter Williams, Milton Friedman and Arthur Laffer. As Bachmann put it, “When I go on vacation and I lay on the beach, I bring Von Mises.”

Such books score points with voters who are ideologically committed to small government and unfettered capitalism. As Politico’s Alexander Burns said, the list “flaunts her righty intellectual cred.” Even if most conservative primary voters have not read Friedman or Von Mises, Bachmann understands that conservatives trust a politician who has internalized sophisticated defenses of free markets. It suggests that such candidates will stand on principle and are less likely to be swayed by the ways of Washington.

Bachmann also reports reading “Game Change,” a bestselling account of the 2008 presidential race by journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin — suggesting a pragmatic candidate who is focused on the intricacies of campaign politics. But another book looms large in the story of Bachmann’s awakening: She has repeatedly credited Gore Vidal’s “Burr” (a fictional memoir of Aaron Burr and one of Vidal’s cynical novels about American history) for turning her into a Republican.

In a 2010 speech in Michigan, she decried “Burr” as a “snotty little novel” that “mocked our Founding Fathers.” Vidal’s constant mockery offended her — “as a reasonable, decent, fair-minded person who happened to be a Democrat” — so much so that she put down the book and said to herself: “You know what? I think I must be a Republican. I don’t think I’m a Democrat.” Such a transformation is a long-standing trope among Republicans, many of whom have gone from left to right. Ronald Reagan often referred to his days as an FDR Democrat: “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party,” he said. “The party left me.” Subtly, Bachmann is seizing that mantle.

MITT ROMNEY — THE CONSENSUS CONSERVATIVE

In a recent interview with NBC News, Romney revealed that he had “finished President George W. Bush’s book ‘Decisions’ and enjoyed that very much.” It was a smart move for the former Massachusetts governor, showing that as the putative front-runner for the nomination, he is already focused on governing — pragmatism and leadership, in one stroke. We can almost forgive his getting the title (“Decision Points”) wrong.

Even though Bush clearly had his problems with conservative voters, the choice of Bush’s memoir suggests Romney is seeking the label of the “consensus conservative” — with its sense of inevitability — which Bush wrapped up early in his 2000 campaign.

Romney has cited the Bible as his favorite book, but also has confessed his affection for science fiction and fantasy. In 2008, he admitted that he was a fan of “Battlefield Earth,” written by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard; more recently, he revealed his penchant for Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” series, as well as Terry Goodkind’s “The Law of Nines” (even though he called it “The Rule of Nines”). The admissions of a genuine sci-fi guy, or is he seeking to counter his stuffed-shirt reputation?

RON PAUL — THE UNORTHODOX CONSERVATIVE

At the end of Paul’s “The Revolution: A Manifesto,” he recommends dozens of books, many of which emphasize his differences with more traditional GOP thinking. For instance, many of the works dealing with international affairs are not in the mainstream of Republican thought. They include Robert Pape’s “Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism,” Chalmers Johnson’s “Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire,” and Michael Scheuer’s “Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror.” These choices demonstrate how Paul represents a more isolationist strain in a GOP that has recently embodied a more internationalist — and interventionist — worldview.

In Paul’s list of almost 50 books, two bear additional comment: “As We Go Marching,” by John T. Flynn, and “Atlas Shrugged,” by conservative favorite Ayn Rand.

Paul offers a fairly straightforward description of Flynn’s book: “Flynn was an accomplished journalist, [he] analyzes fascism in Italy and Germany and concludes by considering the state of America in his day.” This fails to convey the alarmism of the book, which warns of fascism reaching American shores. As for Rand — a passionate advocate of rational self-interest who imagined an equally alarming world in which business leaders and inventors retreated from the onslaught of socialistic politician-parasites — Paul deeply identifies with her thinking and has frequently mentioned her on the House floor. He has noted that he deems “all of Rand’s novels worth reading, in spite of my strong disagreements with her in important matters.” Such choices show an enduring propensity to part ways with mainstream conservative thinking as represented by the presidential nominees of the past few decades.

NEWT GINGRICH — THE VACUUM-CLEANER CONSERVATIVE

The former House speaker is the GOP contender most linked to the world of books. In the 1990s, he recommended books for his House colleagues, mostly business strategy reads such as Alvin Toffler’s “The Third Wave” or Peter Drucker’s “The Effective Executive.” Upon leaving the House in 1998, he became a prolific author, producing 17 books on everything from energy policy to the role of faith in American history.

Writing in the New York Times magazine, Andrew Ferguson recently characterized Gingrich’s books as “evidence of mental exertions unimaginable in any other contemporary politician.” He also identified certain strains in the Gingrich oeuvre, including warnings of a looming Armageddon and faith in the ability of technology to see us through most challenges.

In addition to reading and writing, Gingrich is a prolific reviewer of books. According to The Washington Post, Gingrich reviewed no fewer than 156 titles on Amazon from 2000 to 2008, making him one of the top 500 reviewers. He likes books written by men (he reviewed only six books by women), and was inclined to offer favorable reviews: On Walter Isaacson’s “Benjamin Franklin: An American Life,” for example, Gingrich wrote that “this is a book worth giving any of your friends who would better understand America or any foreigner who wonders at our energy, our resilience, our confidence and our success.”

Despite his omnivorous reading, it’s hard to conclude much about Gingrich’s thinking. Unfortunately, his reading habits reconfirm the rap on him — as the GOP’s supposed man of ideas, he might have difficulty sorting wheat from chaff.

RICK PERRY — THE RED-MEAT CONSERVATIVE

The latest entrant into the GOP race revealed in his most recent gubernatorial campaign that he likes to read novelized Texas histories — including “Not Between Brothers,” by David Marion Wilkinson, and “The Gates of the Alamo,” by Stephen Harrigan — and World War II memoirs, such as “Islands of the Damned: A Marine at War in the Pacific,” by R.V. Burgin, and “With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa,” by E.B. Sledge. Both categories hold strong appeal for Republican-base voters but reveal little about Perry’s thinking.

How about the books Perry has written? The first, published in 2008, is “On My Honor: Why the American Values of the Boy Scouts Are Worth Fighting For.” It could not be more apple pie. Perry praises small-town America, lionizes the Scouts and takes shots at today’s coddled kids: “As opposed to sports leagues today where no one keeps score, the Scouts keep score.”

His latest, “Fed Up!: Our Fight to Save America from Washington” (with the foreword written by Gingrich), is very much a campaign book — part biography, part lament about government policies, part celebration of Perry’s Texas record, and part governing philosophy, including a robust vision of states’ rights. Liberal blogger Matt Yglesias says “the book should give political reporters plenty of questions to ask Governor Perry as he introduces himself to a non-Texas constituency.” Overall, Perry’s reading and writing reveal a very political mind at work, conscious of core constituencies and provocative in an era when office-seekers often opt for caution.

The reading lists of the 2012 Republican contenders reflect not only the wide-open nature of the field, but the still-open question of what it means to be a conservative. Reagan left office more than two decades ago, and the GOP still cannot agree on any one person to take his place — let alone a single book to define modern conservatism. There is no latter-day “The Conscience of a Conservative” to pluck off a shelf or download on your Kindle; and there are no Buckleys or Friedmans to write landmark conservative works.

Yet there seems to be a thirst for big books, or at least big ideas, that Republican candidates can use as guiding lights. It may be a coincidence, but the first contender to withdraw from the race, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, did not really highlight any big books animating his conservatism. (In his own book, “Courage to Stand,” Pawlenty cites Ross Bernstein’s “The Code: The Unwritten Rules of Fighting and Retaliation in the NHL” as an example of the “finest lessons and greatest joys” that the sport of hockey has given him, and explains how it informs his political strategies and dealmaking.)

The variety and unpredictability of the GOP candidates’ reading lists could reflect a willingness to pursue unconventional thinking, for good or for ill, and they contrast with Democratic reliance on a single type of book, which evokes Saint Thomas Aquinas’s warning of hominem unius libri timeo (“I fear the man of a single book”). But the variety could also prove more virtue than defect. The Republicans have become a party of too many ideas, but too few unifying ones beyond low taxes and a newfound fiscal conservatism. This lack of clarity on core principles will be tested in the 2012 primaries, and the results could guide conservatism for years to come.

Tevi Troy is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a former senior aide to president George W. Bush. He is the author of “Intellectuals and the American Presidency: Philosophers, Jesters or Technicians?”

Read Troy’s 2010 Outlook article “For Obama and past presidents, the books they read shape policies and perceptions.”

Featured Historians Julian E. Zelizer: Americans want security for 2012

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Julian E. Zelizer: Americans want security for 2012

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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Julian Zelizer: Economic security is going to be defining theme of 2012 race
  • Americans want to know jobs are safe and available, he says
  • Zelizer: Neither party has done a good job developing policies for economic security
  • He says FDR provided security to U.S., while Ford and Carter didn’t

Julian E. Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of “Jimmy Carter” (Times Books) and editor of a book assessing former President George W. Bush’s administration, published by Princeton University Press.

Just as the 2004 presidential election was all about the concept of security, the same term will shape the campaigns of 2012.

But this time around, the issue is not national security and the threat of terrorists but the search for security amid the ongoing struggles that Americans have faced with the economy.

High unemployment, laggard economic growth and a turbulent stock market have left many middle class Americans terrified about what comes next. Almost three-quarters of Americans, according to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, said that the country is moving in the wrong direction.

During the 2012 election, voters will be looking for a candidate who can restore some sense of economic security: a candidate who can provide them with confidence that their jobs won’t disappear (and that new jobs will emerge for those without them) and that their income will remain steady….

Republicans have not provided much of a vision of how they would restore economic security for the middle class. They have focused on the traditional conservative magic bullet solutions of deficit reduction and government spending cuts — without tax increases — neither of which would have any major impact on the current unemployment rates or address the underlying challenges that the economy has been facing for over a decade.

Today’s candidates from both parties are closer to their predecessors in the 1970s than the 1930s. Political leaders are having trouble providing guidance and hope as a devastating economy has turned life into a constant struggle for many Americans. In 2012, the nation will have a chance to hear what each party plans to do to turn things around. The candidate who can offer a more compelling case is likely to end up in the White House.

Featured Historians Julian E. Zelizer: Where are the Democrats’ ideas?

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Julian E. Zelizer: Where are the Democrats’ ideas?

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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Lately, the silence of liberalism has been striking, says Julian E. Zelizer
  • During the debate over the debt ceiling, Republicans hammered home their point, he says
  • Yet the Democratic response was mostly half-hearted, he says
  • Zelizer: Unless Democrats put forth ideas of their own, they will suffer at the ballot box

Julian E. Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of “Jimmy Carter” (Times Books) and editor of a book assessing former President George W. Bush’s administration, published by Princeton University Press.

When Sen. Ted Kennedy died in August 2009, many Democrats wondered who would replace him as the voice of modern liberalism. With a Democratic president who was then fighting for an ambitious health care program, many felt Barack Obama would be that voice.

But over the past few months Obama has not filled this role, as became clear during the debate over the debt ceiling. Other than a handful of party officials, led by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the silence of liberalism has been striking.

Since Republicans won control of the House of Representatives in 2010, Democrats have been acting like a football team that starts the game so focused on not allowing the other team to score that they themselves don’t have much of a plan for how to score.

One factor that allowed the GOP to rebound from the devastating loss it faced in 2008 was its ability to come together around a handful of ideas that animated supporters….

Unless Democrats start to put forward some ideas of their own, they will suffer at the ballot box. In the end, most Americans want something to vote for, and candidates they can believe in.

Candidate Obama realized this in 2008 and used it to defeat Sen. Hillary Clinton in the primaries. As president, Obama has acted very differently and risks intensifying the ideological vacuum that has caused so many problems for his party.

Featured Historians Julian Zelizer: The painful price of deficit hysteria — Debt Ceiling Showdown

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Source: Julian Zelizer, Salon, 7-29-11

The painful price of deficit hysteria

Library of Congress/AP
Barry Goldwater and Paul Ryan

Regardless of the outcome of the debt ceiling debate, conservatives have already scored a major victory over liberalism. Even if President Obama emerges from the struggle in stronger political shape than the GOP, the fiscalization of American politics — meaning the focus of debate on deficits and debt — constitutes a powerful blow to liberal Democrats who once hoped that President Obama’s election would herald a new era for their cause.

Liberals were wrong. Conservatives, who have a mediocre field of presidential candidates and who don’t control the Senate, have been able to stand their ground.

Perhaps one of their most lasting accomplishments since the midterm elections has been their ability to shift national debate toward the problem of deficit reduction. While there has been disagreement among politicians and economists about whether this is the correct time to deal with this issue given the laggard state of the economy, conservatives have won the battle. Even Nancy Pelosi said this week, “It is clear we must enter an era of austerity, to reduce the deficit through shared sacrifice.”

We are all fiscal conservatives now, at least on paper.

None of this should come as a surprise. Focusing on deficit reduction has been a long-standing strategy for proponents of conservatism ever since modern liberalism took hold in the 20th century. Whenever liberals make progress on their policy agenda, conservatives’ best bet has been to talk about the budget. While it is difficult to directly oppose many government programs, since the public tends to support specific services, it is easy to raise fears about overall costs. Those are just numbers, not programs. Moreover, budget-balancing has long been symbolically important to many Americans. As the political scientist James Savage has shown, a balanced budget represents to many citizens the perception that the government maintains control over its operations….READ MORE

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