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

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,...

Restoration Fever

M ost of us like to think that our views represent the innermost beliefs of the majority of our fellow citizens. Recent polls may show a ridiculous preference for a position we despise, our candidates may lose at election time, and the radio may broadcast music or talk that we abhor. But we know that all this is ephemeral: Deep in their hearts, the majority agree with us about what is right and good. And if they don't say so or act accordingly just now, the trend is moving in our direction. Let those who think differently tremble at the verdict of an awakened nation. Cultural conservatives have waited for a national awakening for at least 30 years, even longer. Through most of this century, Americans have become steadily more tolerant of practices that once met general opprobrium. Unmarried couples now live together unashamedly, divorce is easier and more common, and contraception and abortion have become legal and accepted. As censorship has effectively disappeared, the explicit...

Passion, Memory, and Politics, 1992

F rom its founding nearly three years ago, The American Prospect has sought to help reconstruct a plausible and persuasive liberalism. This issue's cluster of articles concerned with a public investment strategy for economic growth exemplifies that purpose: substantive, detailed thinking about how to solve the nation's problems, rather than symbolic gestures. Yet, as this political season has reminded us, there is another aspect to the conflict over public ideas in America that is inevitably and properly symbolic. It is a battle over cultural ideals, ways of life, the meaning of the past. And that conflict is inseparable from the hard choices in economics, social policy, and even foreign affairs. Clashes over cultural ideals and ways of life are hardly new in the United States. The passions aroused by the temperance movement as this century began were not wholly unlike those aroused by today's conservative crusades for "family values" and against abortion and gay rights. Temperance,...

Between a Swing and a Lock

T o their credit, the Republican leaders in Congress have had a highly strategic view of the uses of policy in consolidating political power. Newt Gingrich and his colleagues set themselves a clear agenda and they have stuck to it, conscious that their first priority, more important than any single piece of legislation, has been to demonstrate the capacity to govern and to make good on their word. They have put issues first that united them and deferred those that divided them. Rather than repeal liberal policies one by one, they have chosen broad legislative measures, such as block grants, that cancel out decades of legislation all at once. On everything essential, especially in the House, they have maintained party discipline--moderate Republicans may bite hard on some votes, but they have stuck with their leadership far more than conservative...

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