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

Boring Politics, Please

The American political system wasn't built to handle showdowns, culture wars, crises of legitimacy, or bids for total power.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, and Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag look at President Barack Obama, March 24, 2009. (White House/Pete Souza)
In a column last April that had a subtle but profound influence on the financial-regulation debate, Paul Krugman recalled that when he was in graduate school in the 1970s, "everyone knew that banking was, well, boring." Make it boring again, Krugman proposed, by eliminating the crazy risks, huge bonuses, and near meltdowns that have characterized Wall Street since the late 1980s. I don't remember when banking was boring (mine was the generation of the original "greed is good" Wall Street , not the forthcoming sequel), but I do remember times when Washington was a lot more boring. And while politics should never be as boring as banking, it would be a good idea for politics, too, to dull things down a bit. In the 12 years since the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, being interested in politics or lucky enough to write about it has been an endless, often terrifying thrill. We've witnessed a series of high-stakes gambles, all-or-nothing showdowns, frauds, and schemes for total power...

Learning About the Left From Glenn Beck

The figures on his blackboard aren't the "wizards" or "masterminds" of current politics. But they are real figures in the history of liberalism.

(Glenn Beck)
Glenn Beck, the self-pitying shock-jock of Fox News, has over the past year and a half become the master of a very old medium: the blackboard. Sometimes it's a whiteboard, sometimes a set of PowerPoint slides, but most often it's the classic school blackboard with chalk dust and erasers on which, with swirling and intersecting lines, photos and logos, he diagrams the great socialist conspiracy to take over the country. Various figures, often unknown to viewers, are revealed to be "the wizard" or "the mastermind" behind all or part of the little-understood socialist plan to take over America, a complex he now refers to as "Crime, Inc." Beck's blackboard schemes are fiction, of course, part of what the writer Alexander Zaitchik, in a superb new book about Beck, calls "the oceanic audacity of his self-serving ignorance." None of the people he fingers are socialists; few have more than a tangential relationship to the Obama administration. But Beck's blackboards call to mind Marianne...

Sucked into the '60s?

I read this piece by Matt Bai last night and willed myself to ignore it until I saw an actual copy of the Times this afternoon and realized that it's on Page 1, above the fold! Bai claims that the episodes involving Senate candidates Richard Blumenthal and Rand Paul are evidence that we haven't gotten over the '60s: "Both men found themselves unexpectedly sucked into the vortex that pulls us inexorably back to the 1960s," and "the trite and simplistic debate seems mismatched to the more complex conversations that most Americans are actually trying to have." This is the tiredest trope in the book. And it just isn't true: Of Blumenthal, Bai says, "the controversy, stoked by his Republican opponent, has as much to do with all the 40-year-old emotions around draft boards and deferrals, the lingering bitterness among those who served and the torturous guilt among those who did not, as it does with the straight-up issue of veracity." But no, that's not true -- there's no doubt that...

Liberalism's Mayor

Recent reassessments of John V. Lindsay's years as mayor of New York challenge familiar assumptions about the 1960s and 1970s.

New York Mayor John V. Lindsay, March 3, 1966. (AP Photo)
In the familiar sad story of the decline of liberalism and the rise of the right in the 1970s, New York City deserves a particularly long chapter. The aphorism, "A conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged," originated in New York, where robberies rose 900 percent from 1964 to 1974. The first generation of neoconservatives, defined more by their cautious domestic policies than by global hawkishness, was bred in the experience of New York in the late 1960s. For others, the mere phrase "Ocean Hill-Brownsville," referring to two Brooklyn school districts that became the site of a showdown between teachers and community activists, is sufficient shorthand to evoke the many-layered misunderstanding between white (especially Jewish) liberals and African Americans that threatened the hopeful alliance of the civil-rights movement. And it was in the outer boroughs of New York where the white working class broke most visibly from the New Deal liberal coalition. In the journey from the...

Did Good Politics Lead to Bad Policy?

In a Washington Post column yesterday, Ruth Marcus laid the blame for Arizona’s worst law at the feet of its best -- the recent anti-immigrant law, she said, was passed in part because of the state’s 12-year-old system of public financing of elections. How could this be? Marcus says that the public-financing program known as Clean Elections (which provides full funding to candidates who demonstrate a broad base of support through small seed-money contributions) “worked -- perhaps too well." Because “barriers to entry were extremely low,” inexperienced candidates could take on incumbents, and win. “Previously, for better or worse, candidates of both parties were "vetted" by business groups that then proceeded to help them raise money, a process that served to filter out extremes on both sides.” The extremes on the right benefited in particular, she says, from the breakdown of the vetted-by-business system: “a law pushed by ‘good...