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

"SLAP IN THE FACE" TO NONPROFITS?

"Obama's budget proposal came as a slap in the face to many nonprofits, which had thought they had a friend in him because of his early work as a community organizer." This is in the course of a completely gullible story in The New York Times by Stephanie Strom , about nonprofits complaining mostly about the proposal to cap charitable deductions. David Brooks fell for this one too, in his recent "moderate manifesto" : "The U.S. has always had vibrant neighborhood associations. But in its very first budget, the Obama administration raises the cost of charitable giving. It punishes civic activism." As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes , this cap would apply only to the wealthiest donors; taxpayers who don't itemize (who make up the bulk of contributors to "vibrant neighborhood associations") and don't get any deduction now; and the whole thing is estimated to reduce charitable giving by 1.3%. In return, it would fund universal health coverage, which would dramatically...

THE DOUBLE MISSION.

My column in the March issue of TAP argued that President Barack Obama 's primary mission was to change the culture and assumptions of American democracy, but he had acquired a second mission, which was to change the culture of capitalism. But the sicknesses and erroneous assumptions in the two cultures were intertwined, and even though the task is approximately twice as unimaginably large, he might be better off taking on the two missions together. A key section in last night's non-SOTU speech captured precisely what I was thinking of: We have lived through an era where too often, short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity; where we failed to look beyond the next payment, the next quarter, or the next election. A surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy instead of an opportunity to invest in our future. Regulations were gutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthy market. People bought homes they knew they couldn't afford from banks...

The Dual Mission

Though initially tasked with rescuing politics, Barack Obama must transform the economy as well.

To change the culture of American politics: that was the radical promise on which Barack Obama was elected president. Ever since his days as a Chicago organizer and state senator, his first mission has been to bring people back in as participants in democracy, to clear out corruption, to restore trust in government, and to replace empty partisanship with a real debate about national priorities. But along the way, a second mission emerged, one he surely couldn't have anticipated when he launched his presidential campaign two years ago: to change the culture of American capitalism. The news that the Wall Street banks saw the Bush administration's bailout funds solely as a way to pay their customary millions in bonuses was a stunning reminder that even after the financial sector destroyed itself and came to Washington begging for public relief, the underlying all-you-can-grab mentality remained unaffected. But to change politics is alone almost an impossible project. How can the Obama...

THE WELFARE SURPRISE.

It only took twelve years, but the New York Times has discovered the fundamental problem with the 1996 welfare reform: It doesn’t work in a deep recession! This should not be news. While the law was hailed as ending the “entitlement” to welfare, that did not mean that individuals lost an automatic entitlement to benefits, which they never had anyway. What it meant was a change in financing, so that in place of the old AFDC structure, under which states were automatically reimbursed by the federal government for 50% of their welfare costs (more for poorer states), states now get a fixed block grant based on their caseload in the early 1990s, when welfare caseloads were at all-time high points. The old system was flexible and based on need – when poverty and caseloads rose, so did federal spending. The post-1996 system, known as TANF, is inflexible and breaks any connection with the economic cycle. The work requirements and time limits that got the most attention in the welfare reform...

MSM: THE ENEMY OR TRIVIAL?

John McQuaid makes a marvelously concise point about the different ways in which the last two presidents relate to the media. As John summarized it even more concisely in his Twitter feed , " Obama and Bush each see the establishment media agenda in conflict with his own. To Bush it's ideologically hostile; to Obama, trivial." Like Bush, Obama appears to view the media agenda in fundamental conflict with his own. But now, the perceived difference isn’t ideological. It’s programmatic. Obama (correctly, I think) sees the press representing two things that are clear obstacles to his ambitious plans: official Washington and a trivia-obsessed media culture. First, the official Washington view: There’s a certain, Broderesque way of doing things. Be centrist, bipartisan - especially if you’re a Democratic president. Listen to the conservative talking heads who dominate Sunday talk shows, who will advise you to be … conservative. This world, shaped by the rise of conservative media since the...

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