Mark Schmitt

Mark Schmitt is director of the program on political reform at the New America Foundation and former executive editor of The American Prospect



Recent Articles

Reading Progressive History Through the Prospect

Good policy can be smart politics -- that's the idea behind this magazine.

For most of the 20-year history of The American Prospect , I have been not a writer but a reader of the magazine. When the first issue was published in 1990, I was probably exactly the sort of reader the founders had in mind. In fact, having just been hired as a speechwriter for an ambitious and wonky Democratic senator (Bill Bradley of New Jersey), I got a copy as soon as I could, figuring that immersing myself in the swirl of new ideas about policy and politics could be considered a legitimate part of my new job. If the goal of the early Prospect was to set an ambitious liberal agenda, I hoped to be a cog in the transmission belt between the magazine's ideas and actual policy. Looking back, it was quite a moment, full of potential and intellectual ferment, with a tangible sense that the Reagan decade had run out of steam (as Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. argued powerfully in the Prospect 's first issue) and that the end of the Cold War had brought a long-delayed opportunity to focus on...

Who Owns Freedom?

Do liberals take civil liberties seriously enough?

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia speaks on civil liberties at an ACLU membership conference. (AP Photo/Chris Greenberg)
Shortly after Elena Kagan was nominated to the Supreme Court in May, a front-page headline in The New York Times reported that she "Leaned Toward Conservatives" on a key issue. The issue was the First Amendment, and based on a major law review article Kagan wrote in 1996, reporter Adam Liptak predicted that in her views on freedom of expression, Kagan would be closer to conservative justice Antonin Scalia than to John Paul Stevens, the liberal justice she would replace. Stevens, Liptak noted, had written the 1978 opinion supporting the Federal Communications Commission's ban on George Carlin's "seven dirty words." And he had dissented when the Court in 1989 struck down a Texas law making it a crime to burn the flag. Scalia was in the narrow majority that recognized the right to such inflammatory protest. The "conservative" position, in other words, favored free expression over censorship. If this is conservatism, sign me up for Team Scalia. Fortunately, it's not quite so simple --...

What Will a Republican Majority Do Next?

We know Speaker Boehner's opening moves. But what will the GOP do after those fail?

Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) (Flickr/republicanconference)
If, as predicted, the Republicans take control of the House, or both houses of Congress, this November, will they: 1) shut down the government? 2) propose massive budget cuts? 3) begin proceedings leading toward impeachment of President Barack Obama? 4) repeal the health-reform bill? Some leading political-scientist bloggers (notably John Sides at The Monkey Cage and Jonathan Bernstein at A Plain Blog About Politics ), along with Matthew Yglesias , have been discussing this question for several weeks, and the scholarly consensus seems to be "all of the above." But a better question is, what will they do next, after those things don't work? I've seen this movie before, having worked on the Hill when the Republicans took over in 1995. But they've seen it before, too, and will want to avoid making the same mistakes. (Though fewer of them have seen it than you might think -- only 55 current House Republicans were there in 1995, and 10 of them are retiring this year, meaning that if...

The Senate That Byrd Made.

There’s much to be said about the life and career of Sen. Robert C. Byrd , who represented all the possibilities for change that American life promises and delivers too rarely: Lifted from abject poverty to success and power through hard work; self-taught, to the point of erudition; an unhesitant racist who by the 1970s shed every hint of that heritage; the classic congressional inside operator who in the Bush years took up the voice of an outsider to describe abuses of power with a moral clarity that others weren’t capable of. I don’t think quite enough has been said about the tremendous influence Byrd had on the culture and rhythms of the Senate, and the behavior of other senators. Here’s a modest anecdote: In the early 1990s, when I worked for Sen. Bill Bradley , we were collaborating with Ted Kennedy to get a significant improvement in student loans passed, using a trick to get it through the Senate Finance Committee and into a budget reconciliation bill. (...

Failed States

From Bear Sterns to BP -- there is a reason "bailout" has become the defining word of the era.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat from Rhode Island. (Flickr/Center for American Progress)
The Gulf oil spill, we now understand, is not a natural disaster but a result of the interaction of two completely failed organizations: the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service and the oil company that now calls itself BP (nee British Petroleum). The sight of BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward at a yacht race on the Isle of Wight, days after indifferently telling Congress that he had barely known of the existence of the "nightmare well" known as Deepwater Horizon, is a lasting image. As Joseph Nocera established in detail in The New York Times on Saturday, even now, there's something deeply sick about the culture of that company. Similarly, the MMS was a cesspool of drug use, sexual harassment, and personal, financial, and sexual interminglings between the regulators and the regulated. In a powerful speech Friday, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island offered that rarest of things in Washington, a completely new idea: After reviewing the disgraceful recent history of the...