Mark Schmitt

Mark Schmitt is director of the program on political reform at the New America Foundation and former executive editor of The American Prospect



Recent Articles

Opposite Day

Obama decided that if everything Carter and Clinton did turned out wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.

President Barack Obama at a fundraising event for Sen. Arlen Specter held Sept. 15, 2009. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Every Democratic presidency since Lyndon Johnson's (that is, both of them) has followed a pattern: A fresh face enters the White House bringing new hope and big ideas, delivers his agenda to Congress, and quickly gets the back of the hand from the contemptuous grandees of his own party. With little accomplished, congressional Democrats suffer major losses in the midterm elections. Over the next two years, even less progress is made. Barack Obama knew this. He knew it so well that the organizing principle of his administration seemed to be the Costanza Doctrine, after Seinfeld character George Costanza's insight that if everything you do turns out wrong, "then the opposite would have to be right." Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter packed their White Houses with Washington newcomers like themselves, so Obama surrounded himself with insiders like Rahm Emanuel and Tom Daschle. Clinton and Carter gave Congress detailed legislative plans, so Obama set a rough destination and let the World's...

Master of Opportunity

Ted Kennedy was never afraid to seize the chance to further his vision of a just society.

There are two battling story lines about the career of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy: Here at the Prospect , we recall the Lion of Liberalism, treating his 1980 convention speech as the hinge of his long career. Meanwhile, on cable news, or in the hands of Dan Balz at The Washington Post , he is the icon of bipartisan compromise, whose close working partnership with Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah among others was legendary. Earlier this week, a number of Republicans including Hatch invoked a disingenuous, "if only Teddy were here" explanation for their intransigence on health reform, suggesting that all other Democrats lacked his ability to forge compromises. My own exposure to Sen. Kennedy during the period I worked on the Hill was mostly at a distance, but I don't see those two approaches as being in any kind of conflict. I think that he was able to forge bipartisan deals because he knew his own heart so well. The deals -- such as the McCain-Kennedy partnership on immigration -- were not built...


As progressives mourn the likely death of a public insurance option in health care reform, it's worthwhile to trace the history of exactly where this idea -- a compromise itself -- came from. The public option was part of a carefully thought out and deliberately funded effort to put all the pieces in place for health reform before the 2008 election -- a brilliant experiment, but one that at this particular moment, looks like it might turn out badly. (Which is not the same as saying it was a mistake.) One key player was Roger Hickey of the Campaign for America's Future. Hickey took UC Berkley health care expert Jacob Hacker 's idea for "a new public insurance pool modeled after Medicare" and went around to the community of single-payer advocates, making the case that this limited "public option" was the best they could hope for. Ideally, it would someday magically turn into single-payer. And then Hickey went to all the presidential candidates, acknowledging that politically, they...

A New Agenda for Tough Times

After a decade of economic change and fresh thinking, it's time for a new national effort to fight poverty.

A homeless campsite in East Providence, R.I. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
It has been 13 years since a Democratic president's signature on the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 eliminated a flawed program that also provided the only protection against destitution. Yet that act also brought an end to the welfare wars, a long and debilitating period in which poor people were the focus of political conflict and racially loaded demagoguery, exemplified by former Sen. Phil Gramm's image of a society divided between those "pulling the wagon" and those "riding in the wagon." Even liberals stepped with trepidation, insisting that they, too, would end welfare as we knew it. In the years since, absent a high-profile conflict over policy, poverty has once again become invisible. As Michael Harrington wrote in 1962, "That the poor are invisible is one of the most important things about them." But there is a sense that the shadows are lifting. Hurricane Katrina's devastating effects on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast briefly drew...

Left Without Labor

A party of professionals and young voters risks becoming a party that overlooks the core economic crisis facing American workers.

(AP Photo)
Several years ago, I spoke on a panel where an audience member posed the rhetorical question, "Can any of you envision a robust progressive movement that doesn't have organized labor at the center of it?" The appropriate answer -- the one that wouldn't cause the labor-heavy audience to throw rotten tomatoes at us -- was, "No." And that was also the right answer. None of us could envision a vibrant liberal movement without labor because we'd never seen such a thing. From the New Deal to the civil-rights movement, organized labor has borne much of the weight of a broader progressive vision. I have carried that question in my head ever since and try to revisit it periodically. Today, I think my answer would be, "We might have to envision it." At a time when workers in the private sector are more vulnerable than ever, organized labor represents only 7.6 percent of them. Labor's best hope of reversing that trend, the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), doesn't have enough support to pass in...