Jacob Hacker

Jacob S. Hacker is Stanley Resor Professor of Political Science at Yale University, is the author, with Paul Pierson, of Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer—and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class (2010).

Recent Articles

Powell's Diagnosis—And Ours

Why is the American political system so weakly responsive to the policy preferences of the majority of Americans?

This piece is part of the Prospect' s series on progressives' strategy over the next 40 years. To read the introduction, click here . T he Powell Memo is remembered today as a blueprint for business counter-mobilization. So it’s easy to forget that one of Lewis Powell’s principal goals—and, it seems, achievements—was to wake up business leaders to the nature of the challenges they faced: the hostility in some campus quarters, the strength of foes like Ralph Nader, and, above all, the weakness of corporate political organization. Before he could get business leaders to act on his prescriptions, Powell had to convince them of his diagnosis. A Powell Memo for us likewise has to get the diagnosis right. Today, progressives are having three main conversations—about organization, about messaging, and about policy. Each is crucial. But there’s an even more crucial conversation, and it’s the inverse of the one that Powell sought to start more than 40 years ago. Powell asked why business was...

Reclaiming Middle-Class America

If progressives want a winning theme that the right can't match, this is it.

"Middle class" is more than an income category. It's an image of a certain kind of society--a nation in which the gains of prosperity are broadly shared and those who work hard have a good shot at upward mobility and the security of a basic safety net. Today, that image is badly tarnished. In a September 2010 ABC News/Yahoo! poll, only half of Americans agreed that "the American Dream--that if you work hard you'll get ahead--still holds true"; more than four in 10 said it no longer did. This dark mood undoubtedly reflects hard economic times, but middle-class discontent runs much deeper than the current downturn, and its roots are at least as much political as economic. To reclaim America as a middle-class nation, we need to understand what's gone wrong--and what can be done to fix it. THE ERODING FOUNDATIONS OF MIDDLE-CLASS AMERICA Like all ideals, the American dream is an aspiration, not a guarantee. Yet, for 30-odd years after World War II, the aspiration came remarkably close to...

The Stalemate State

Those who argue that gridlock is a good check on partisanship haven't examined its policy consequences.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
The political gridlock that marked most of the 1980s and 1990s is back -- and it's about to get worse. After the November midterm elections, not even timidly liberal initiatives will be able to overcome the omnipresent filibuster. If the Republicans manage to take the Senate, conservative legislation will be confronted by filibusters from the Democratic side of the aisle as well as the obstacle of a veto from President Barack Obama. The clashes to come will surely be unpleasant. Recall that the last time energized congressional Republicans faced down a Democratic White House, we got government shutdowns and impeachment proceedings. Yet some politicians and pundits will argue -- as they did the last time stalemate reigned -- that gridlock is not such a bad thing. Former Congressman Bill Frenzel gave voice to a common sentiment when he declared in the mid-1990s, "Gridlock is a natural gift the framers of our Constitution gave us so that the country would not be subjected to policy...

Health Reform 2.0

If reform is to succeed, progressives will have to fight for a stronger government role, including a public option.

Marchers demand the public option in health-care reform. (Flickr/Steve Rhodes)
Sen. Tom Harkin put the point well when he described the health bill as a "starter home." What Harkin neglected to mention is that the home isn't built yet, and the construction zone is in the path of a hurricane -- the fast-approaching storm of runaway health costs and hard-core conservative opposition. In the face of these challenges, reformers have three great priorities: implementing the law, protecting and defending it from the already-mounting attacks, and renovating and improving Harkin's "starter home" to make it a sustainable structure. The next health-care battle will require organization, narrative, and strategy at least as much as the last did. And this time, reformers will need to call plainly for a greater government role -- armed, if they take their three big tests seriously, with concrete examples of government getting things right. Wilbur Cohen, the architect of the last landmark reform law, liked to say that policy is "1 percent inspiration and 99 percent...

A Strong Safety Net Encourages Healthy Risk-Taking

The basic underlying principle of the New Deal was that security is not opposed to opportunity but essential to it.

From Five Ways of Looking at Risk . Remember the "ownership society"? Just an election cycle ago, conservatives were urging Americans to give up their antiquated social-insurance programs--Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance--in favor of tax-subsidized individual accounts that would vest responsibility for dealing with economic risk in workers and their families. Thankfully, the most extreme elements of that agenda failed, and the vision behind it (of responsive financial markets capable of managing risk with limited government oversight, and the private sector providing inclusive, progressive protections with minimal public prodding) is now discredited. Yet while the ownership society was a practical and intellectual failure, it was more of a political success than commentators generally acknowledge. Even before the financial crisis, the broad set of economic protections that arose in the Great Depression and expanded in the decades after--sometimes called the "safety...