Paul Starr

Paul Starr is co-founder and co-editor of the The American Prospect. and professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton University. A winner of the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction and the Bancroft Prize in American history, he is the author of seven books, including most recently Remedy and Reaction: The Peculiar American Struggle over Heath Care Reform (Yale University Press, revised ed. 2013). Click here to read more about Starr.

Recent Articles

Failure to Convert

P olitical parties rarely make deep changes in their societies by winning a single election. Once in power they generally need to reinforce their support, repeat their triumphs at the polls, and so change the terms of politics that even their opponents adjust their positions. That is what Margaret Thatcher did, and Tony Blair may be in a comparable position now that he has won a second landslide victory. The prospects for George W. Bush are, thankfully, much less certain. If the first phase of his presidency is any indication, he may be Thatcher-like in his ideological convictions but not in his long-term impact on politics. This was one of the big questions after Republicans took undivided control of the government in January for the first time in nearly half a century: Could they convert their razor-thin victories into durable majorities? Much of the Republican program is best understood in terms of its potential long-term payoff in entrenching conservative power: tax cuts that make...

A Believable Politics

Liberal public inspiration is in short supply these days. To be sure, with his environmental, energy, and tax policies, President Bush is doing his best to unify moderates and liberals, and the Democratic Party may emerge stronger as a result. But a believable progressivism that can inspire deep commitment as well as win majority support requires more than a defensive coalition. This summer, 29 college students from around the country confronted that challenge at a two-week program called the Century Institute that I helped to organize in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Meeting independently of the staff, the students formulated a statement of their own "commitment to social justice and the fight for equality," emphasizing a wide array of concerns that matter to them. The Williamstown statement discusses many familiar issues, beginning with environmental protection and responsibility, widening income inequalities, and the need to raise living standards for the poor. The students continue...

The Disengaged

David Hackett Fischer's new book, Paul Revere's Ride , is a cautionary tale for Democrats who expect their heroes to produce results overnight. The story of Paul Revere has come down to us as a tale of individual daring. In our national memory, he rides through the night single-handedly spreading the alarm about the redcoats to individual farmhouses. But, as Fischer shows, Revere was part of an extensive network. He was a member of five political organizations in Boston (only Joseph Warren belonged to as many), and he had served as a rider and emissary before. As we might say today, he was an organizer and a networker; he knew, quite literally, which doors to knock on. On the night of April 18, 1775, Revere and many fellow riders did not simply alert individuals; they "awakened the institutions of New England." Fischer explains: The midnight riders went systematically about the task of engaging town leaders and military commanders of their region. They enlisted its churches and...

The Undertow

As the 1990s began, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. argued that America was due for a new era of affirmative government in keeping with the cycle of liberal and conservative periods that runs through our history. Uncannily, Bill Clinton's election came right on schedule, roughly 90 years after Theodore Roosevelt became president, 60 years after Franklin Roosevelt, and 30 years after John F. Kennedy. But if Clinton benefited from a change in the political tides (and it is still an open question whether he really has), he now faces a powerful undertow that threatens his ability to lead. By the undertow I mean the current of deep distrust, of suspicion of evil purposes and hidden crimes, that has emerged from the margins of political respectability to become the everyday language of the press and political debate. Although Clinton's critics say the problems he faces are of his own making, the undertow has not struck him alone. The frenzy of suspicion that hit the presidency in 1994 hit the...

Seductions of Sim: Policy as a Simulation Game

For those who always thought public policy was a game anyone could play, it finally is. But beware of what the game assumes.

S tanding around the computer, my two older daughters, nine and eleven years old, scan the picture of the city we're creating and debate whether it needs more commercial or residential development. My six-year-old son suggests we look at the city budget. In just a few weeks he has learned enough to ask the critical question: "What's the cash flow?" This is SimCity, one of a series of computer simulations that turn public policy and ideas into popular entertainment. With the advent of dramatically improved graphics and powerful, low-cost multimedia computers, a new generation of "edutainment" software has finally begun to fulfill the long-touted promise of computers in education. Most of the new programs use interactive multimedia to make games out of traditional subjects such as arithmetic or geography. In MathBlasters, for example, children solve math problems in order to fuel up a rocket and find a villain in outer space. However, the Sim series, produced by California-based Maxis,...

Pages