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

Pocketbook Populists

About this time every election cycle, we start receiving stern lectures from the Wall Street Journal and kindred spirits warning that the prospective Democratic nominee is sounding alarmingly "populist." Front-runner John Kerry is following the pattern, and so are a lot of commentators. In his victory speech Tuesday night, Kerry declared, "I have a message for the influence peddlers, for the polluters, the HMOs, the drug companies, big oil and all the special interests who now call the White House home: We're coming. You're going." Kerry, echoing his stump speech, went on to promise Americans, "a prosperity where we will reduce the poverty of millions instead of constantly reducing taxes for millionaires. A prosperity where we create jobs here at home -- and where we shut down every tax loophole, every benefit and every reward for any Benedict Arnold CEO or company that sends jobs and profits overseas." Strong stuff. And sure enough, Wall Street Journal columnist Alan Murray,...

Look Closely

President Bush's major speeches are a combination of high-blown rhetoric, paltry particulars, and calculated cynicism. They need to be carefully scrutinized, both in terms of what they actually deliver and who their real audience is. Bush's re-election will hinge on whether voters pay attention to the rhetoric or the details. For instance, Bush's call Tuesday to broaden the availability of health insurance and rein in costs falls apart on close inspection, just like his Medicare drug insurance legislation. Most people who can't afford good insurance don't get enough subsidy from Bush's proposal. A patchwork approach, built on tax credits and big out- of-pocket costs, doesn't solve the problem. It only enriches private insurers and drug companies -- the proposal's true audience. Will voters focus on the details? Bush, shrewdly and cynically, set the start date of his drug legislation for 2006. So nobody will have first-hand experience, by November, of just how bad the plan is. In...

America as a One-Party State

America has had periods of single-party dominance before. It happened under FDR's New Deal, in the Republican 1920s and in the early 19th-century "Era of Good Feeling." But if President Bush is re-elected, we will be close to a tipping point of fundamental change in the political system itself. The United States could become a nation in which the dominant party rules for a prolonged period, marginalizes a token opposition and is extremely difficult to dislodge because democracy itself is rigged. This would be unprecedented in U.S. history. In past single-party eras, the majority party earned its preeminence with broad popular support. Today the electorate remains closely divided, and actually prefers more Democratic policy positions than Republican ones. Yet the drift toward an engineered one-party Republican state has aroused little press scrutiny or widespread popular protest. We are at risk of becoming an autocracy in three key respects. First, Republican parliamentary gimmickry...

Boston Marathon

This could be the first year since 1960 that the Democratic nomination contest goes all the way to the convention. In that year, John Kennedy eked out a first ballot win, but the roll call of the states went all the way to the letter W -- Wyoming -- before Kennedy went over the top. You have to go back to 1952 for a convention that went more than one ballot (Adlai Stevenson won it on the third.) Most knowledgeable observers think I'm inhaling something. The usual view is that after a few primaries, the race must narrow to the top two contenders because everyone else's money dries up. But consider these unusual factors, which have all converged this year: Proportional Voting. The Democrats no longer use a winner-take- all-system. Thanks to party reforms, votes are allocated proportionally. So, in a nine-person field, a candidate can "win", say, South Carolina with a plurality of 30 percent of the vote -- but only get about 30 percent of that state's delegates. In the old days, the...

Vicious circle

In 1975, political scientist Edward Tufte and economist William Norhaus put forth a theory of the political business cycle. Usually, "business cycle" refers to the normal ups and downs of the economy. Their insight was that the business cycle is influenced by politics. These scholars documented that incumbent presidents often used their influence with Congress and the Federal Reserve to artificially pump up the economy for their reelections and dealt with the resulting damage once they were safely returned to office. Richard Nixon's 1972 landslide nicely fit the pattern. So did Lyndon Johnson's "guns and butter" economic program of 1967-68 (except that the Democrats were undone by the Vietnam War). The theory later fell into disfavor. Neither Jimmy Carter (defeated in 1980) nor George H.W. Bush (defeated in 1992) could manipulate the economy well enough to save their jobs. Carter fell to stagflation and Bush I to recession and a jobless recovery. But the political business cycle is...

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