Julian E. Zelizer: Why Obama's Fate is Tied to Congressional Democrats

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Julian E. Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of "Arsenal of Democracy" and a book on former President Jimmy Carter and editor of a book assessing former President George W. Bush's administration to be published this fall by Princeton University Press.]

...The past year and a half have been bruising for Democrats on Capitol Hill. The sluggish economic recovery and two wars have left many constituents drained and fearful. In addition, the president has asked congressional Democrats to carry his water on hugely controversial pieces of legislation: health care and financial regulation....

If the tensions become worse, Obama can find himself politically hamstrung in his final two years. When presidents don't nurture their congressional base, the White House usually finds itself isolated in difficult times.

President Jimmy Carter is the classic example. He focused on a series of controversial proposals in his first two years, such as energy reform and the Panama Canal treaties that did little for congressional Democrats whose constituents wanted relief from stagflation.

President George H.W. Bush also angered members of his own party. In 1990, Bush agreed to a deficit reduction plan that included a substantial tax increase. By signing onto the package with the Democratic Congress, the president abandoned his campaign pledge not to raise taxes and violated a signature tenet of the conservative movement. Minority Whip Newt Gingrich and his allies were furious with Bush and refused to provide him support in the final two years of his presidency....
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