Paul Starr

Paul Starr is co-founder and co-editor of 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 eight books, including Entrenchment: Wealth, Power, and the Constitution of Democratic Societies (Yale University Press, May 2019).

Recent Articles

Why I'm Not a Populist

I t was just about 100 years ago, after the defeat of William Jennings Bryan in 1896, that the original, agrarian Populist movement collapsed and gave way to the more broadly based Progressivism of the early 1900s that permanently altered American government and society. But Populism, despite its short and checkered history, survives in our political vocabulary, and there are a fair number of people who brighten up at the thought of a populist revival. I am, however, not among them. From the outset, the populist impulse has been to play upon one public emotion above all: anger. That anger has typically been directed at a diffuse enemy at the top--the monopolies, the interests, or elites of various kinds. The populist mind suspects conspiracies in high places, often in league with foreign influences, and appeals to a kind of insular Americanism that is suspicious of both immigrants and other countries. The grievances that populism taps are no doubt genuine. Its rhetoric and remedies...

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. Still, if they...

Failure to Convert

Political 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...

How Low Can You Go? Shoot Now, Think Later

Shoot Now, Think Later Conservatives everywhere are trying to outdo each other. Cut off welfare after two years? Make that just 60 days in some states. End social benefits to illegal immigrants? Make that legal immigrants too. Add the death penalty for some federal crimes? Why not for more? Revolutions often set off this kind of spiral. According to the New York Times , when a right-wing talk radio host in California recently proposed offering bounties to people who shot illegal immigrants after they crossed the border, a caller suggested shooting Mexicans before they entered the U.S. so Americans wouldn't have to pay for the funerals. Finally a right-winger who believes in prevention. Just Compensation In the debate over NAFTA, Michael Kinsley proposed compensation for Americans who lost $16-an-hour jobs to Mexicans making $3 an hour. A columnist in Forbes was unmoved. "Here we have an American who has for years charged the rest of us $16 for something we ought to have been able to...

Who Owns the Future?

T hey claim to be riding a wave of historical change. The wave is global in its reach and unstoppable in its force. Those who get in the way are representatives of an old, obsolete order; they may put up a fight, but they will be beaten in the inevitable transformation. So Newt Gingrich and other conservatives describe their movement and the fate of its opponents. If the picture sounds familiar, it is because it recalls other movements, notably Marxism, that claimed a mandate of historical inevitability as well as popular will. Just as Marxists consigned their liberal and social democratic opponents to the dustbins of history, so conservatives are now loudly and confidently doing the same. And just as many liberals lost self- confidence in the face of communism's triumphs in the first half of the twentieth century, so many have resignedly accepted the conservatives' claim to own the future. The recent history of the future suggests skepticism. Many once-popular visions besides the...

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