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

The Demise of the Moderate Republican

As the GOP presidential field shapes up, it's become clear that any moderate restraints on the party are now gone.

Though commentators often portray the Democrats and Republicans as mirror images of each other, American politics is not symmetrical. We do not have one party that represents the left in just the way that the other party represents the right. Among congressional Democrats, moderates and conservatives sharply circumscribed what Barack Obama could do on the economy, health care, climate, and other issues even when his party had majorities in both the House and Senate. The Republicans, in contrast, have virtually cleansed themselves of moderates and are poised to move the country sharply to the right if they win the 2012 election. The source of the party's shift is a mysterious death that may be the single most important contemporary political development -- the demise of the moderate Republican in national politics. Growing up in New York at a time when Dwight Eisenhower was president and Nelson Rockefeller was governor, I would never have guessed that moderate Republicans stood in...

The Healthy Fallout From Fukushima

The nuclear disaster in Japan might show the safety risks of nuclear energy, but the costs don't stop there.

An aerial shot of the Fukushima nuclear plants (The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images)
The last few years have brought a great deal of talk about a "nuclear renaissance" and a new bipartisan consensus in favor of building more nuclear power plants. In the hope of striking a grand bargain on climate legislation during the last Congress, many environmentalists were willing to go along with what President Obama and others held up as a sensible compromise: federal subsidies for nuclear power and more leeway for offshore oil drilling in exchange for a carbon cap-and-trade system. But the BP oil spill helped to quash that idea, and the disaster in Japan should bury it. If we are ever going to get global-warming legislation -- and with denialists in control of the House, that's not likely anytime soon -- it will have to be some other way. The idea of a nuclear renaissance was never a good one. Nuclear power is phenomenally more expensive than the alternatives, there is still no solution to the disposal of spent fuel, and as the Fukushima catastrophe illustrates, the potential...

Troubled States

The recession will take its biggest toll on the states this year. We could fix that.

The Arizona state Capitol, which together with the governor's office was put up for sale last year to plug the state's budget deficit (AP/Matt York)
This year, with unemployment still at recession levels, one state after another will lay off teachers, reduce health care for people on Medicaid, defer maintenance on roads and bridges, and make other assorted cuts to balance their budgets. Even though these policies will hinder economic recovery, venerable observers will say the cutbacks are preferable to higher taxes, and some Republicans will relish the chance to slash programs they never liked in the first place. Even liberal Democratic governors and legislators, compelled by balanced-budget requirements in state constitutions, will have no politically feasible alternative except to reduce spending. Although state revenues have begun to grow again, they are still well below 2007 levels, and federal stimulus aid to the states -- perhaps the least appreciated part of an ill-appreciated program -- ends with the new fiscal year (beginning in most states on July 1). This whole experience ought to be a lesson in the limits of stimulus...

The Republicans' Senior Moment

Seniors depend more on federal spending than any other group, but that did not deter a majority of them from voting for candidates who deplored "big government" and "socialized medicine."

Fred Linsenmeyer of Phoenix at a health-care town hall meeting held by Sen. John McCain (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
One reason the electoral map turned red in November was that the electorate turned gray. Older Americans went to the polls in droves to vote Republican, while young people stayed home. And one big question about 2012 is whether the elderly will still vote Republican if the GOP can be forced to spell out the implications of its political agenda for Medicare and Social Security. The magnitude of the age shift and the degree to which it favored Republicans in 2010 were remarkable. In 2008, voters 65 years of age and older represented a smaller share of the total (16 percent) than did voters aged 18 to 29 (18 percent). But in 2010, elderly voters outnumbered the young by more than 2-to-1 -- 23 percent compared to 11 percent. While the young still favored Democrats, the old swung massively to the Republicans, voting for them by a 21-point margin, 59 percent to 38 percent. Throughout the year, polling found that of all age groups, the elderly leaned the most toward the Republicans and were...

Back to Deadlock

Come next January, the great American impasse will be back in all its toxic splendor.

President Obama calls on Senate Republicans to stop filibustering campaign-finance legislation, July 2010 (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)
The voters often surprise us, but this fall's midterm election seems nearly certain to have at least one consequence. For the next two years, Congress will be unable to make any significant headway on the great challenges facing our country. The Republicans may win one or both houses, or they may fall a bit short, but their gains will be enough to stymie substantial legislation to deal with climate, immigration, the economy, and long-term fiscal challenges. A majority of the electorate may think those problems need urgent attention, but when the votes are tallied, they will likely add up to paralysis. Impediments to large-scale policy innovation are built into the structure of American government, but recent developments have made legislative change even more difficult. Use of the Senate filibuster has become routine in an era when bipartisanship has become nearly impossible. With the advent of a tea-stained Republican Party, it will be no small feat even to get the congressional...