Julian E. Zelizer: Obama Needs to Show He's on Top of Crises





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

Major crises can inflict great political damage on U.S. presidents. Regardless of all the weapons that come with the office, presidents throughout American history have discovered that they can quickly be overwhelmed when events spin out of control.

The ways in which presidents respond to these crises have a profound impact on their political standing.

President Obama is still in a good political position for the 2012 election. Most of the Republicans who have toyed with the possibility of running would be candidates with significant vulnerabilities. And the Tea Party's power among Republicans could alienate moderate voters.

But over the past few months, Obama has had to confront crises at a dizzying pace. And these events swirled against the background of a chronically high unemployment rate that has been the most frustrating challenge that this administration has faced. Some critics say Obama has not been leading in these areas, that he is shifting his position as events unfold and that he lacks a strong plan for handling these multiple situations....

Jimmy Carter learned how politically damaging these kinds of crises could be -- particularly once the public came to believe that the White House didn't seem to be in control of events....

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