Julian E. Zelizer: Time for Obama to put cards on table

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 Carter and editor of a book assessing former President George W. Bush's administration, to be published this fall by Princeton University Press.]

If current polls are a guide, the midterm elections probably won't be good for President Obama and his party. The Democrats are in danger of losing control of the House of Representatives and of seeing their majority in the Senate diminish.

With Obama's approval rating sagging to 45 percent according to a Reuters-Ipsos poll, even his most ardent supporters admit that he will need a stimulus act for his presidency before 2012 comes around. One of Obama's biggest challenges has been his reticence about defining a clear agenda and a set of governing principles. Doing so has been at odds with his legislative strategy, which has hinged on avoiding big proclamations to give himself wiggle room with Congress.

But that legislative strategy has had a major political cost. Many Democrats don't feel as if they know exactly what their leader is about. Some conservative critics have been able to paint a rather pragmatic Democrat as a Soviet-style socialist, and sometimes, according to recent polls, as a Muslim.

To bounce back, Obama will need to do more to articulate his agenda. For guidance, he can look back to two presidents who recovered from difficult midterms, Republican Ronald Reagan and Democrat Bill Clinton....

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