Paul Starr

Paul Starr is co-editor of the The American Prospect. His most recent book is Remedy and Reaction: The Peculiar American Struggle over Health Care ReformClick here to read more about Starr.

Recent Articles

Damage Report

T he past two years have humbled both liberals and conservatives—or should have. The 1992 election, liberals hoped, would set in motion a new cycle of progressivism. It didn't. After the 1994 election, the new conservative leaders of Congress expected to stage a revolution. They didn't. First President Clinton failed to secure the bolder aspects of his program, notably health care reform and public investment; then the Republicans failed to enact most of the Contract with America and their seven-year budget plan. Clinton miscalculated on health care; the congressional leadership miscalculated on the government shutdown. Conservatives still have control of the national agenda, and they have won a big victory on welfare reform. But the collapse of public approval for Gingrich and the Congress—down to about 26 percent since January, according to a Wall Street Journal /NBC poll—has deflated their claim to a historic mandate. Thus the 1996 election comes at a curious juncture. Juggernauts...

Of our Time: Democracy v. Dollar

D emocracy, many people have said, is a matter of faith, but why, dear Lord, must our faith be tested so often? Lately, the role of money in political campaigns has been mocking our civic creed. "Here the people rule," we are taught, and we would like to think so. But if the voters (and nonvoters) seem disbelieving, they may merely be acquainted with the material facts of political life. Congressional candidates in this last election cycle raised $1.3 billion, which is a lot of money to change hands with pure intentions. Fiorello La Guardia, New York's reform mayor of the 1930s and '40s, once said that politics requires "supreme ingratitude." That's just the problem. Among those who run for office, ingratitude may not be common enough. In many respects, the United States is positively fastidious about the influence of money on public officials. Federal employees cannot legally accept even trivial gifts from the public. They risk prosecution if they allow someone to pay for a meal or...

A Reform That Doesn't

L et's say we decided to build a dam along a river. If we merely agreed to erect a small barrier that the river would run around, flowing easily through new channels and old ones, no one would celebrate our plan as a great achievement. But that is how editorialists have hailed the Senate's passage of the McCain-Feingold bill, despite the scant likelihood that the partial barriers it erects will stem the flow of big money or seriously diminish its influence in politics. As passed by the Senate, McCain-Feingold virtually invites circumvention. The bill bans unlimited soft-money donations to the parties and bars advocacy-group advertising that mentions candidates during the 30 days before a primary and 60 days before a general election. I don't expect the limits on advocacy-group advertising to survive a trip to the Supreme Court, nor do I think they should (as I wrote in "The Loophole We Can't Close," TAP, January–February 1998). But even if the Court upholds this restriction on...

How Low Can You Go?

Bidding for your Job N ot so long ago, employees of large corporations believed that if they did their jobs well, they could count on working for the company for the rest of their careers. The downsizings and reorganizations of recent years have exploded that premise. Still, some remnants of the old beliefs linger on. Most people assume that if they continue working for a company, they will at least receive the same salary. Now that premise is also giving way. Consider a practice that some companies have lately adopted: bidding for your job. Bidding for jobs is typically part of a corporate restructuring--as it is, for example, at New Jersey's major electric and gas company, PSE&G, which is itself now bidding for commercial customers in what used to be a highly regulated and protected industry. According to PSE&G's corporate planning department, the leaders of each business unit...

Thy Kingdom Dot Com

T he rise of the new economy and skyrocketing prices of Internet stocks have caused a certain discomfort and ambivalence among older Americans, which in this case generally means anyone over 26. There is, of course, due acknowledgment of the great promise of e-commerce and even some national pride about the phenomenon (only in America!). But logic, historical experience, and the fact that they didn't anticipate the explosion of new-economy stocks have convinced a lot of people that it must be a bubble. They wouldn't mind seeing it burst, if only that would take the smirk off the faces of the kids being featured as geniuses in the business magazines and didn't bring down the rest of the economy. We're in new generational territory here. One day last year in a class at Princeton on American society where we were discussing the 1960s, I asked my students what the phrase "generation gap" brought to mind. If you think it had anything to do with sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll, you're...

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