Paul Starr

Paul Starr is co-founder and co-editor of 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 eight books, including Entrenchment: Wealth, Power, and the Constitution of Democratic Societies, which will be out next year.

Recent Articles

Faster, Please

Democrats in Congress should focus on enacting job
measures and health reforms that show voters immediate progress.

(Flickr/White House)
The continuing rise in the unemployment rate, up to 10.2 percent in November, has to give a sense of urgency to Democrats in Congress and the administration about the work they have at hand before next fall's elections. In 2010 Republicans are looking to repeat the success they had in 1994 after Bill Clinton's first two years, and if Democrats do not produce results soon, Barack Obama may suffer the same kind of midterm reversal as Clinton did. The one good thing for the Democrats about the risk of losing control of Congress next fall is that, as Samuel Johnson said about the prospect of a hanging, it concentrates the mind. And it ought to concentrate congressional minds in two areas where the pressure is greatest to match promise with performance -- the economy and health care. It is now clear, as it should have been earlier, that the stimulus package passed in February was too small for this severe a recession and that more needs to be done to generate immediate growth in jobs. The...

Bipartisanship in One Party

The Democratic health-reform proposals are built around ideas Republicans used to favor.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Max Baucus. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
As the debate over health reform enters its decisive stage, there is a lot of talk about the need for compromise between Democrats and Republicans. That was a sensible point to make in years past when Republicans offered alternatives for reform to compete with Democratic proposals. But this year there are two problems with the idea of bipartisan compromise. The first is that Republicans in Congress have not even made a pretense of offering constructive alternatives. The second is that the Democratic proposals are built around the ideas that Republicans used to favor -- those proposals already are bipartisan compromises. Unfortunately, they are compromises with a Republican Party that no longer exists. In the late 1940s, when Harry Truman proposed legislation for national health insurance (what today would be called a single-payer plan), a group of Republicans including Congressmen Richard Nixon and Jacob Javits advocated a system of government--subsidized, private nonprofit insurance...

Health-Care Reform Gets a Booster Shot

Obama's speech had some important news: His plan now includes some immediate relief on insurance costs.

(AP Photo)
President Obama's speech to Congress on health care Wednesday evening succeeded at several levels. Beforehand, observers said that he needed to explain to a confused public what he is proposing and why it makes sense, and the speech did that. Analysts also said that the president needed to shift the momentum from August, to confront the ugly distortions of the opposition, and to mobilize support in his own party. In those respects as well, the speech did all that might have been expected of it. But Obama also undertook several things that were unexpected -- at least, I didn't expect him to do them. He introduced an important new element into the policy discussion. He signaled his support for what is now the likely resolution of the most contentious issue -- the public option. And after paying respect to Republicans for their ideas, he used the coda of his speech to make the larger case for liberalism more eloquently than any president has in decades. The new element in the policy...

Sacrificing the Public Option

Chill out, progressives. To get health-care reform through the Senate, the public option is almost certainly going to have to be dropped.

A supporter of health-care reform leans on her sign during a rally in Belgrade, Montana. (AP Photo/Mike Albans)
Contrary to some overwrought reactions on the left, if a public insurance option fails to make it into this year's health-care legislation, it does not spell the end of worthwhile reform. The president and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius have been entirely correct in saying that the public option is only a small part of the reform effort. The general framework for health insurance that Democrats are advocating does not depend upon a public option. And if a public plan is enacted, it may be so compromised that it could backfire on reformers and become a high-cost alternative rather than the cheaper option that progressives are hoping for. Because the public option has stood no realistic chance of being enacted in the form it was conceived, its main value all along this year has been as a bargaining chip. The proposal will now have served a valuable political purpose if, by sacrificing it, the White House is able to provide enough cover to Democratic senators...

Debating the Public Option

The three founders of the Prospect discuss the perils and promise of a public-insurance option.

In " The Perils of the Public Plan ," Paul Starr warns that a public-insurance option could turn into exactly the opposite of what progressives want. Here he discusses the problems with the Prospect 's two other co-founders, Robert Kuttner and Robert Reich. Paul Starr : According to last week's Washington Post , the public option is the "crux" of the health-reform debate and the "greatest challenge" for Senate negotiators to overcome. That's an accurate description of the current political scene, but it's true only because so many people, including members of Congress, are responding ideologically to the idea of government involvement. The public option is not the biggest question in reform. Under the proposals being considered, it would be offered only within insurance exchanges at the state and regional level. The far bigger question is how those exchanges work: Are they open to all employers and individuals -- required, in fact, for employers below a given size -- or open only to...