Paul Starr

Paul Starr is co-founder and co-editor of the The American Prospect. and professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton University. A winner of the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction and the Bancroft Prize in American history, he is the author of seven books, including most recently Remedy and Reaction: The Peculiar American Struggle over Heath Care Reform (Yale University Press, revised ed. 2013). Click here to read more about Starr.

Recent Articles

Breaking the Grip of the Past

Reflexive conservative ideology remains a powerful factor in national debate. So it's crucial--if not for Obama, then for others--to continue to press the case that our present problems have ideological roots.

The American political system, with its "status quo bias" (as political scientists call it), is not set up for moments like this when the economy is sinking fast and the country requires strong action that breaks with previous policy. After the election, many people concluded that conservatism was over and done with, and at least in one sense, that's true. No credible response to the crisis has come from the right. But if conservatism seems dead, it isn't nearly as dead as it should be. As the battle over the stimulus package indicated, the right can still exploit the many "veto points" in the system (such as the need for 60 votes to pass legislation in the Senate) to delay, water down, and obstruct the kind of coherent and capable action we need. For Barack Obama and the Democrats, the problem is not just the hard-right conservatives who dominate the Republican Party and the right-wing media echo chamber. Given the urgency of present circumstances, the critical impediment may lie in...

The Realignment Opportunity

Conservatives say that America remains a center-right country and Obama won only because of special circumstances, while some liberals claim that the election marks a historic realignment. Neither is the right way to read the returns.

In the immediate aftermath of the election, two interpretations began circulating about its implications. The first came from conservatives who insisted that America remains a "center right" country and that the voters gave Barack Obama and the Democrats a majority only because of the financial panic and the limitations of the McCain campaign. The second interpretation came from some liberals who promptly declared this to be one of those critical elections that mark a historic political realignment. Neither is the right way to read the returns. The conservative interpretation ignores long-term trends in demography and public opinion that favor the Democrats. Since the early 1990s, younger voters have been moving in a more liberal direction, and Democrats have solidified their support among Latinos -- the most rapidly growing group in the population. Surveys have shown a steady rise in tolerance on race and sexual orientation as well as large majorities in favor of universal health...

The American Collision

A presidential race between Obama and McCain was supposed to bring a less-polarized politics, so why hasn't it worked out that way?

Earlier in this election cycle, many observers suggested that if Barack Obama and John McCain became their parties' nominees, they would each moderate the polarizing tendencies in American politics. In the wake of the two parties' national conventions, that notion seems like a frail hope. Something is driving polarization, and it isn't the personalities. It also isn't trends in public opinion. As Morris P. Fiorina argues in his book, Culture War? , public opinion surveys show that on most issues Americans are still bunched in the middle, contrary to the widespread belief that they are more deeply divided than they were a generation ago. Of course, party differences have sharpened as a result of the ideological sorting out that's come with the defection of white Southerners from the Democrats and the conservative revolution within the GOP. At first glance, it looks like two opposite and equal shifts. The Democrats have become more liberal with the loss of Southern conservatives as the...

The Year of Passion

In this year's primaries, for the first time in many election cycles, Democrats were carried by inspiration, rather than political calculation.

Now that Barack Obama has secured his party's presidential nomination, it is a good moment to assess the extraordinary and improbable thing that the Democrats have done. It was not intuitively obvious, particularly to those who saw the party's central task as winning back the Reagan Democrats, that the best way to retake the presidency would be to nominate an African American with an Islamic-sounding name. In the abstract, before Obama emerged, that concept had not suggested itself, and some political insiders may be excused for not immediately grasping its genius. Let us recall the leading explanations in recent years as to why Democrats were losing and what they had to do to win. To appeal to the Reagan Democrats, some held that the party needed a candidate who was culturally and religiously close to middle America--say, a moderate (white) Southern governor along the lines of Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton, the only Democrats to get elected in the past 40 years. Central casting sent...

Freedom's Future Online

In his new book, Jonathan Zittrain argues the very qualities that make the personal computer and the Internet so valuable are the source of their vulnerability and possible undoing.

The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It by Jonathan Zittrain, Yale University Press, 352 pages, $30.00 The delirium and delusions that surrounded computing and the Internet in the 1990s have given way to a sentiment just as dangerous--complacency. It's not just that yesterday's wonders have so quickly become routine; most of us also take for granted the basic workings of the digital environment, including the freedom for experimentation that it affords. Countries like China may control the Internet, but in our society don't the free market and the open, untamed wilds of cyberspace make it nearly impossible to clamp down on innovation? If that's what you think, you need to read Jonathan Zittrain's new book, The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It . A professor of law and Internet governance and regulation at Oxford, Zittrain is one of a group of technically literate legal scholars who have clarified what's at stake politically, economically, and culturally in choices about...