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

We're All Environmentalists Now

For the environmental community, “The Death of Environmentalism” hit last year with the force of a tsunami, leaving its audience so taken aback by its sweeping, cocksure condemnation of their decades of selfless struggle that they could barely think about it rationally, even when they accepted its basic truth. On the other hand, among progressives who don't situate their lives primarily in the world of the greens, the essay crept to attention more slowly, rather like global warming itself. Almost a year later, I am still periodically sent a copy, along with a breathless “Have you read this?” note. Not only did I read it, I point out; I tried to call attention to it outside the environmental community back in March, predicting that “it may be the most powerful and lasting of the very many ‘What's wrong with the left?' documents of the George W. Bush era.” Rereading the essay after a year, it seems even clearer that “The Death of Environmentalism” was less a condemnation of the...

It Takes a Democrat

Most liberals will open Senator Rick Santorum's new book, It Takes a Family , in the same spirit that we approach Dianetics or The Washingtonienne : looking for the outrageous parts. And while there's no entry for “man-on-dog” sex in the index -- apparently Santorum has thought better of his assertion last year that if the Supreme Court permitted overturned sodomy laws, such cross-species partnerships would be the next innovation in The New York Times ' wedding pages -- there is enough to keep the opposition researchers at the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee busy faxing material to reporters in anticipation of Santorum's difficult race for re-election next year. But there's more to this book than material to be mined for campaign ads and dirty jokes. It Takes a Family begs to be taken seriously -- perhaps a little too seriously, with its references to Immanuel Kant, Robert Putnam, Blackstone's Commentaries , and the films of Whit Stillman. (This last raises the intriguing...

Lesson Learned

Someday soon, when it can no longer be denied that the Bush administration's effort to phase out Social Security is dead, the president might call his team into the Oval Office for a postmortem. “What went wrong?” he'll ask. “I want complete honesty.” (Did I mention that this conversation is fictional?) Fingers will be pointed: Senator Charles Grassley. Representative Bill Thomas. Democrats. AARP. An honest voice might note that the “experts” at the Cato Institute had 20 years to figure out the details and never did the work. After a bit of this, a pudgy pink finger, appended to the hand of a celebrated political guru, will rise. The room will go quiet. “Mr. President, we forgot how we got here in the first place.” “You mean setting up front groups to destroy our opponents?” “No, Mr. President, we tried that on Social Security, and it didn't work. As you know, I am a student of history. After Barry Goldwater lost in 1964, a couple of political scientists concluded that Americans are...

The Legend of the Powell Memo

The story of the Rise of the Right is the great fable in recent American politics, one that is endlessly revised as it is told and retold by its participants and by envious observers from the left bank. In recent versions, a central place in the story has been given to a memo written in 1971 by Richmond corporate lawyer (and future U.S. Supreme Court justice) Lewis Powell to a neighbor who was active in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Powell's eight-page memo, titled “Attack on American Free Enterprise System,” was a call for American business to defend its interests against criticisms of capitalism emanating “from the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals,” and particularly from Ralph Nader (whose model of public interest litigation and publicity was then at its height). Powell recommended to the chamber a number of strategies, including building a group of scholars-on-call to defend the system; monitoring and critiquing the media; and building...

"Death" and Resurrection

Ever since it debuted at a conference of environmental funders in Hawaii shortly before the election, a report titled “The Death of Environmentalism” has been infuriating the legions of nonprofit professionals who make their living in the “green” world. And it is easy to see why. Starting with the report's cover, embossed with a Chinese ideogram that, according to a tiresome and incorrect management-consulting cliché, is composed of the symbols for danger and opportunity and means “crisis,” it is pompous, contemptuous, vague, New Age-y, contradictory, incomplete, and sometimes obviously wrong. And yet it may be the most powerful and lasting of the very many “What's wrong with the left?” documents of the George W. Bush era. Written by Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, who have since earned the nickname “The Reapers,” “The Death of Environmentalism” is a brilliant mess. It charges that “the environmental movement's foundational concepts, its method for framing legislative...

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