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

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...

The outlook for 2004

What a year it has been! But what will 2004 bring? You can be a pundit, too. Here are some scenarios for the New Year. I'll reveal my own guesses at the bottom of the column, and this time next year we can see who was the best prognosticator. 1. Politics. (a) Howard Dean sweeps the Democratic primaries, wins his party's nomination, picks Wesley Clark as his running mate, fires up the Democratic base -- and loses a close race to President Bush. (b) Dick Gephardt and Wesley Clark do better than expected. Kerry hangs in. Dean narrowly places first in several primaries, but captures only 40 percent of the delegates as the vote splinters. Clark, with 30 percent of delegate votes and Gephardt with 25 percent form a Clark-Gephardt ticket. Clark's patriotic appeal in the South combined with Gephardt's pocketbook pull in the Midwest manage to win a squeaker over Bush. (c) The Democratic convention deadlocks. On the fifth ballot, the delegates turn to Hillary Clinton. Dean's enraged supporters...

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