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

The Morning After

I f, as seems likely but by no means certain, George W. Bush takes office as the next president, while the Republicans hold a one-vote margin in the Senate and control the House of Representatives by about four seats, this will be the strangest victory of any political party in our nation's history. The Republicans will have won control of federal power while losing the popular vote for the presidency, seats in both chambers of Congress, and eight of 11 races for governor. Exit polls indicate no enthusiasm for the tax cut that was Bush's priority in the campaign. Another Republican cause, educational vouchers, was resoundingly defeated in two state referenda. And the results of the presidential contest itself, hinging on disputed votes and irregularities in Florida, could end up seeming tainted. A split and potentially stalemated Congress, no party mandate, no presidential legitimacy--the Republicans may have won the election, but they have not won over the country...

Failure to Convert

P olitical parties rarely make deep changes in their societies by winning a single election. Once in power they generally need to reinforce their support, repeat their triumphs at the polls, and so change the terms of politics that even their opponents adjust their positions. That is what Margaret Thatcher did, and Tony Blair may be in a comparable position now that he has won a second landslide victory. The prospects for George W. Bush are, thankfully, much less certain. If the first phase of his presidency is any indication, he may be Thatcher-like in his ideological convictions but not in his long-term impact on politics. This was one of the big questions after Republicans took undivided control of the government in January for the first time in nearly half a century: Could they convert their razor-thin victories into durable majorities? Much of the Republican program is best understood in terms of its potential long-term payoff in entrenching conservative power: tax cuts that make...

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,...

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