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

What the White House Didn't Learn from the Obama Campaign.

My friend Ed Luce at the Financial Times has written what seems to me the best and most succinct rundown of what's gone wrong in the White House, with particular attention to the role of Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel . A concluding theme of the piece is that the White House, flush with the enthusiasm of an "amazing victory" in 2008, essentially carried the mood and tactics of the campaign into the White House. The November trip to China, in which administration officials with expertise on China were apparently kept at bay by Obama 's inner circle, is described as, "the Obama campaign goes to China." But in one important respect, the article suggests that the White House forgot the campaign's most significant political innovation, the one without which either Hillary Clinton or John McCain would be president. Here's a key quote from the piece: “The whole Rahm Emanuel approach is that victory begets victory – the success of healthcare would create the momentum for cap-and-...

Fantasy-League Politics

The recurring dream of an independent candidate or party protects the status quo.

Harold Ford Jr. greets people at Sylvia's in the Harlem neighborhood of New York, Friday, Jan. 15, 2010. (AP Photo/Stephen Chernin)
In mid-January, former Rep. Harold Ford, a conservative Democrat from Tennessee who in 2006 almost became the first African American elected to the Senate from the South since Reconstruction, made it known that he might want to try again. This time he would run from New York, where he moved a year ago for several seemingly lucrative part-time jobs. Ford's campaign debuted with an inauspicious interview with The New York Times . He hit appointed incumbent Kirsten Gillibrand from the left, right, and center; he was simultaneously in favor of health reform and against it; pro-choice and pro-life; and for and against gun control. He was uncertain whether a helicopter tour qualified him as having visited all five boroughs of his new city. His only unwavering commitments were to a "huge tax-cut bill for business" and to being completely independent of party: "Harry Reid will not instruct me how to vote." By the time you read this, the 39-year-old Ford will either be a serious candidate for...

Transparency For What?

The left, right, and center agree that they want more state budget data. But not all data improves policy.

(Flickr/Steve Rhodes)
"Transparency" was probably the word of the year for 2009, at least in policy circles. At the federal level, President Barack Obama's memo on his first day in office promised "an unprecedented level of openness in Government ... transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government." Justice Louis Brandeis' line that sunlight is the best disinfectant went from insight to cliché and beyond in a short time. The Web site has become the centerpiece of the government's effort to make every knowable bit of information about spending under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the economic stimulus) available to the public and will be the centerpiece of Obama's transparency agenda. Other sites, such as, are opening up the vast amount of information the government has held for years. Transparency involves not just making information available, however; it also...

The Return of Childish Things

The smallness of Washington and the natural nervousness of the electorate proved too much for Obama's original vision. But there's still hope.

The main argument within the center-left coalition in American politics, for at least 20 years (coinciding with the life of this magazine), has been between Big and Small. It's not liberal versus moderate, or the people versus the powerful. Rather, it's between a progressivism of big gestures, emphatic programs, and ballsy claims to power, on the one hand, and on the other, small, tactical, non-scary transactional bargains that nudge the country, or some subset of us, in a better direction. Somehow, most of the time, small wins. And last night, although the State of the Union Address was strong in many respects in tone and substance, Barack Obama signed a nonaggression pact with small. I've usually found myself on the side of big. When I worked on Bill Bradley's presidential campaign in 2000, our case -- and the principal progressive critique of the Clinton administration -- was that it had thought too small. After the disasters of 1993 and 1994, Clinton and Gore had scaled down to...

Mark SOTU reax


Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi applaud as President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2010. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)