Theda Skocpol

Theda Skocpol is Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology at Harvard University. Her article in Issue 46 is from a chapter in Civic Engagement in American Democracy from the Brookings Institution.

Recent Articles

Bringing Academics into the Grassroots Game

This piece is part of the Prospect' s series on progressives' strategy over the next 40 years. To read the introduction, click here . Progressives were not at all ready to fight the battles we needed to fight during President Barack Obama’s first term in the state and local arenas. That’s why my colleagues and I are building the Scholars Strategy Network with a national membership and also including regional networks outside Washington and the usual liberal academic enclaves—for example, in places like New Mexico, where we’ve organized events on what progressives can do to shape the implementation of the new health-reform infrastructure. The purpose of the network is to build bridges between scholars in colleges and universities who research policy and social issues and the activists, journalists, and policymakers who might find their work relevant. We help scholars take part in policy discussions in the states and local districts as well as nationally. I think...

Time for National Greatness Liberalism

Our national economic fortune depends on reclaiming a credible role for large-scale public investment.

President Barack Obama listens to Vice President Joe Biden's comments about high-speed rail during a University of Tampa event in January. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
The early 21st-century United States is falling behind the international competition in many areas of economic innovation. Eroding human capital, a cowed middle class worried about declining wages and fraying families, decaying traditional infrastructure, and a prolonged failure to invest in up-to-date communications, transportation, and energy systems all explain why a once leading nation is headed into "has been" status. Surveys tell us that Americans are pessimistic about our future and suspect that competitors such as China are overtaking us. But you don't really need a poll to tell which way the wind is blowing. Walk into any diner in any community beyond the privileged, elite bubbles in Washington, New York, Boston, and Los Angeles, and you will hear people talking about their worries -- not just for themselves and their families but for our country. All of this was true before the recent Wall Street financial meltdown, housing collapse, and Great Recession. The coincidence,...

Partisans' Progress

Princeton political scientist Larry Bartels casts provocative light on what's at stake when Americans go to the polls.

Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age by Larry M. Bartels, Princeton University Press, 325 pages, $29.95 The 2008 presidential election is shaping up to be a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Americans to break with the past. Barack Obama and John McCain each appeal to independents as well as core partisans yet differ sharply by age and ideology. Obviously divergent in their approaches to American global leadership, they are even more at odds in economic and social policy. McCain promises a continuation of free-market nostrums and upward-tilting tax breaks--essentially further rounds of Reaganism and Bushism. Obama promises to reorient taxes and benefits to help the beleaguered American middle class and less privileged families hoping to join it. In Unequal Democracy , his new book on the effects of partisan politics and public policy on economic inequality, Princeton political scientist Larry Bartels casts provocative light on what's at stake when...

The Narrowing of Civic Life

Coming together in trade unions and farmers' associations, fraternal chapters and veterans' organizations, women's groups and public-reform crusades, Americans more than a century ago created a raucous democracy in which citizens from all walks of life could be leaders and help to shape community life and public agendas. But U.S. civic life has changed fundamentally in recent decades. Popular membership groups have faded while professionally managed groups have proliferated. Ordinary citizens today have fewer opportunities for active civic participation, and big-money donors have gained new sway. Not coincidentally, public agendas are skewed toward issues and values that matter most to the highly educated and the wealthy. To understand the changes wrought by this sweeping civic reorganization, it is useful to consider the significant role these membership groups played in American life dating back at least a century. From the 1800s through the mid-1900s, countless churches and...

A Bad Senior Moment

In a middle-of-the-night vote held open for an unprecedented three hours on Nov. 21-22, Republican leaders finally corralled enough conservatives to ram through the House of Representatives a bill restructuring Medicare and authorizing a limited prescription-drug benefit. The vote was 220-to-215. Three days later, the Senate passed the same bill by a broader margin, 54-to-44. In early December, President Bush happily signed the Medicare restructuring into law, crowing that it fulfilled his party's campaign promises -- not only to help seniors pay for prescriptions but also to "modernize" their health care. "Modernize" is Republican-speak for the idea that seniors' health care should be made more like the patchwork health system for everyone else. If subsidized, private health plans grow as planned, the new law could end up raising premiums and shrinking guaranteed coverage. At the same time, a new drug benefit for seniors has been created -- and so Republicans, oddly enough, appear to...