Paul Starr

Paul Starr is co-editor of the The American Prospect. His most recent book is Remedy and Reaction: The Peculiar American Struggle over Health Care ReformClick here to read more about Starr.

Recent Articles

A Believable Politics

Liberal public inspiration is in short supply these days. To be sure, with his environmental, energy, and tax policies, President Bush is doing his best to unify moderates and liberals, and the Democratic Party may emerge stronger as a result. But a believable progressivism that can inspire deep commitment as well as win majority support requires more than a defensive coalition. This summer, 29 college students from around the country confronted that challenge at a two-week program called the Century Institute that I helped to organize in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Meeting independently of the staff, the students formulated a statement of their own "commitment to social justice and the fight for equality," emphasizing a wide array of concerns that matter to them. The Williamstown statement discusses many familiar issues, beginning with environmental protection and responsibility, widening income inequalities, and the need to raise living standards for the poor. The students continue...

The Undertow

As the 1990s began, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. argued that America was due for a new era of affirmative government in keeping with the cycle of liberal and conservative periods that runs through our history. Uncannily, Bill Clinton's election came right on schedule, roughly 90 years after Theodore Roosevelt became president, 60 years after Franklin Roosevelt, and 30 years after John F. Kennedy. But if Clinton benefited from a change in the political tides (and it is still an open question whether he really has), he now faces a powerful undertow that threatens his ability to lead. By the undertow I mean the current of deep distrust, of suspicion of evil purposes and hidden crimes, that has emerged from the margins of political respectability to become the everyday language of the press and political debate. Although Clinton's critics say the problems he faces are of his own making, the undertow has not struck him alone. The frenzy of suspicion that hit the presidency in 1994 hit the...

Seductions of Sim: Policy as a Simulation Game

For those who always thought public policy was a game anyone could play, it finally is. But beware of what the game assumes.

S tanding around the computer, my two older daughters, nine and eleven years old, scan the picture of the city we're creating and debate whether it needs more commercial or residential development. My six-year-old son suggests we look at the city budget. In just a few weeks he has learned enough to ask the critical question: "What's the cash flow?" This is SimCity, one of a series of computer simulations that turn public policy and ideas into popular entertainment. With the advent of dramatically improved graphics and powerful, low-cost multimedia computers, a new generation of "edutainment" software has finally begun to fulfill the long-touted promise of computers in education. Most of the new programs use interactive multimedia to make games out of traditional subjects such as arithmetic or geography. In MathBlasters, for example, children solve math problems in order to fuel up a rocket and find a villain in outer space. However, the Sim series, produced by California-based Maxis,...

Restoration Fever

M ost of us like to think that our views represent the innermost beliefs of the majority of our fellow citizens. Recent polls may show a ridiculous preference for a position we despise, our candidates may lose at election time, and the radio may broadcast music or talk that we abhor. But we know that all this is ephemeral: Deep in their hearts, the majority agree with us about what is right and good. And if they don't say so or act accordingly just now, the trend is moving in our direction. Let those who think differently tremble at the verdict of an awakened nation. Cultural conservatives have waited for a national awakening for at least 30 years, even longer. Through most of this century, Americans have become steadily more tolerant of practices that once met general opprobrium. Unmarried couples now live together unashamedly, divorce is easier and more common, and contraception and abortion have become legal and accepted. As censorship has effectively disappeared, the explicit...

Passion, Memory, and Politics, 1992

F rom its founding nearly three years ago, The American Prospect has sought to help reconstruct a plausible and persuasive liberalism. This issue's cluster of articles concerned with a public investment strategy for economic growth exemplifies that purpose: substantive, detailed thinking about how to solve the nation's problems, rather than symbolic gestures. Yet, as this political season has reminded us, there is another aspect to the conflict over public ideas in America that is inevitably and properly symbolic. It is a battle over cultural ideals, ways of life, the meaning of the past. And that conflict is inseparable from the hard choices in economics, social policy, and even foreign affairs. Clashes over cultural ideals and ways of life are hardly new in the United States. The passions aroused by the temperance movement as this century began were not wholly unlike those aroused by today's conservative crusades for "family values" and against abortion and gay rights. Temperance,...

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