Robert Kuttner

Robert Kuttner is co-founder and co-editor of The American Prospect, and professor at Brandeis University's Heller School. His latest book is Debtors' Prison: The Politics of Austerity Versus Possibility. He writes columns for The Huffington Post, The Boston Globe and the New York Times international edition. 

Recent Articles

Teachable Moments

Every week, celebrate a public hero.

One of the emblematic movements of the 1990s was an ideologically ambiguous crusade called Reinventing Government. It took its name from a surprise best-seller by David Osborne and Ted Gaebler. The idea was that we still need government, but we need it to be leaner, more flexible, more adaptive--a more customer-driven government that steers more and rows less. This clever mantra had particular appeal for New Democrats, and it was ready-made for Bill Clinton. Reinventing Government allowed moderates to embrace public purpose, but also to posture as modern and market-like (like the conservatives) and oppose the straw man of big, bad, bureaucratic command-and-control government. The reinventors of government could be for deregulation and privatization, and even be part of the chorus of catcalls against the caricatured Democratic past, yet feel they were not abetting the cruder movement to destroy government. They were merely bringing it up to date. The impulse was noble, but the...

Problem Children

Congressional Republicans are hoping to pass yet another budget-busting tax cut this summer and manipulate Democrats into voting for it by using poor children as the bait. In 2001 and 2003, Congress passed legislation providing a child tax credit for the middle class that gradually rose to $1,000 per child, but Republicans excluded working-class children who needed help the most. In the 2003 law, families earning between $10,500 and $26,625 got nothing, including 260,000 children of active-duty servicemen and women. All told, about one child in four was excluded. Working-class families were left out because their breadwinners are too poor to pay much federal income tax. Republicans argued that anyone who paid little or no income taxes had not earned tax relief. Of course, these families do pay sales taxes, payroll taxes, excise taxes, and property taxes. Republicans are now proposing to extend token benefits to lower-income families, but their price is a dramatic expansion of the tax...

Kerry Picked a Winner

A lot of Democrats breathed a big sigh of relief yesterday when John Kerry named John Edwards as his running mate. At the most obvious level, Edwards brings two things that Kerry has sometimes lacked. He brings personal excitement plus a capacity to connect with non-rich voters on pocketbook issues. If Kerry sometimes seems patrician and aloof, Edwards has a common touch. More than any Democrat in the vice presidential field, Edwards is able to enlist culturally conservative, white, working class voters who may be gun-toting, abortion-hating, Arab-bashing, tub-thumping fundamentalists but who know that the economy is not delivering for them. At least some of these voters are willing to give some Democrats a hearing some of the time. That is how Edwards managed to win a Senate seat in the Bible Belt. It's unlikely that a Kerry-Edwards ticket will carry North Carolina, and it may not carry any of the South save perhaps Florida and Tennessee. But that same capacity to reach culturally...

Freeing Liberty

Thank God for the Supreme Court, or at least for the six members who ruled clearly that the president's claims of wartime powers do not trump the rule of law. The court has now exposed the authoritarian nonsense of the administration's claim that a detainee who has not been tried can be held captive as an indefinite menace, simply because the Pentagon asserts it. The entire basis of our system of law rests on the right of an accused person, no matter how heinous the alleged crime, to rebut those accusations before an impartial judge. Strip that away, and you have a dictatorship. It is shocking to have to say so, but it is also fortunate that an earlier generation of Americans had the foresight to commit the United States to international conventions on the treatment of prisoners. When the United States signs and ratifies a treaty, the provisions become a binding part of domestic law. When the United States signed the Third Geneva Convention, the understood purpose was to protect...

Kerry's Catch-22

Assume you are John Kerry. You've just been elected president in a close race. One House of Congress has gone narrowly Democratic, but not enough to give you a working legislative majority. The other has stayed narrowly Republican. By now, it has dawned on you that you lack either the votes in Congress or the fiscal resources to launch a bold domestic program. Not that there's nothing to do. You can restore the United States to a respected position in the world community. You can lead a far more effective program of domestic security against terrorism while respecting civil liberties. And you can return the courts to serious jurists who are not far-right ideologues. But the most successful - and disabling - part of George W. Bush's legacy is a structural budget deficit. Forget social needs. Seemingly, your most pressing imperative is fiscal damage control. And with a Democrat in the White House, the Wall Street worthies who cut George Bush a lot of slack on irresponsible deficits (...

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