Robert Kuttner

Robert Kuttner is co-founder and co-editor of The American Prospect, and professor at Brandeis University’s Heller School. His latest book is The Stakes: 2020 and the Survival of American Democracy. In addition to writing for the Prospect, he writes for HuffPost, The Boston Globe, and The New York Review of Books. 

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Recent Articles

It Was Vulture Capitalism that Killed Sears

If you’ve been following the impending bankruptcy of America’s iconic retailer, as covered by print, broadcast, and digital media, you’ve probably encountered lots of nostalgia, and sad clucking about how dinosaurs like Sears can’t compete in the age of Amazon and specialty retail. But most of the coverage has failed to stress the deeper story. Namely, Sears is a prime example of how hedge funds and private-equity companies take over retailers, encumber them with debt in order to pay themselves massive windfall profits, and then leave the retailer without adequate operating capital to compete. Part of the strategy is to sell off valuable real estate, the better to enrich the hedge fund, and stick the retail company with costly rental payments to occupy the space that it once owned. In the case of Sears, the culprit is a hedge-fund operator named Edward Lampert, once a senior merger guy at Goldman Sachs. In 2005, Lampert merged Sears with Kmart, loaded both up...

The Fraudulence of Susan Collins

When it counts, the supposedly independent Maine senator is a reliable McConnell vote.

People who expected Senator Susan of Collins, allegedly one of two remaining Republican moderates in the Senate, to save us from the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, have not studied Collins’s record with sufficient care. The Maine senator has reduced the choreography of legislative head-fakes to a sublime art, in order to preserve her bogus reputation as an independent minded centrist. When a contentious issue arises, Collins will elaborately explain that she hasn’t made up her mind yet. She needs to give the issue careful study. And then, wondrously, after very careful and well advertised research, the senator almost always votes with Mitch McConnell. Funny how her study leads to that conclusion. She is especially loyal to her party when her vote counts. She has voted to confirm virtually all Trump nominees. Collins also voted for the Trump tax bill (which passed 51-49) and for the confirmation of Justice Neal Gorsuch. Thus last week, she joined two...

Will the Republicans Dump Kavanaugh?

That depends on whether the FBI is Trump’s toady—or whether the bureau does its job. If the FBI has a shred of independence and integrity, Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination could be in big trouble. With every passing day, more and more witnesses are coming out of the woodwork to contradict this or that aspect of Kavanaugh’s story. There are now multiple people who knew him well who say he was a much more reckless drinker than he claimed. There is one date on his calendar, July 1, that increasingly looks as if it could be the date of the infamous party that Dr. Christine Blasey Ford described. But if the FBI takes an obvious dive, then Republicans risk losing the votes of Senators Flake, Murkowski, and Collins. To believe otherwise, you have to believe that these Republican senators were just looking for a fig leaf, and a scanty one at that, when they called on the FBI to investigate. The White House has been sending mixed signals. One moment, the FBI has to stop at...

A Very, Very, Very Fine House

If the Democrats do take back the House in November, how should they pursue strategic goals looking forward to 2020?

This article appears in the Fall 2018 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here . “Politics Ain’t Beanbag” —Mr. Dooley (Finley Peter Dunne), 1895 For much of the past three decades, Republicans have been playing serious hardball while Democrats have often played beanbag. When Republicans took over the House in 2011 and then the Senate in 2015, they began violating normal legislative procedure with increasing recklessness. Bills were enacted without hearings and little notice, often being finalized in House-Senate conferences with only Republican legislators participating. Members were literally asked to vote on final passage with no text available. Venerable norms and courtesies were shamelessly manipulated. The Senate’s blue slip rule, allowing a home-state senator to put a hold on a judicial nomination, was interpreted to require two holds to block action when Republicans were rushing through confirmations, but just one hold when Democrats...

A Close-Run Thing

The Duke of Wellington, speaking to a colleague about his victory at Waterloo in 1815, which ended the Napoleonic wars, described it as a "the nearest-run thing you ever saw in your life." Historians have simplified the remark as "a close-run thing."

Watching what may or may not be a turning point in the Trump presidency this week, it occurs to me how often history is a close-run thing. Brett Kavanaugh may or may not go down, because of the almost random decision of Christine Blasey Ford to come forward and risk invasion of her privacy and public humiliation. 

Trump may or may not fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. That, in turn, may or may not prefigure the firing of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, which may or may not put some spine in a handful of Republicans and begin the march to an impeachment.

Watergate, similarly, was a close-run thing, beginning with the random discovery by a security guard of some tape over the lock on a door to the DNC Headquarters that Nixon’s plumbers were attempting to burglarize. The 2016 election, with its Watergate echoes of the theft of Democratic emails, was about as closely run an election as it gets.

History, we are reminded, is a blend of deep historical forces and random events, lucky or unlucky. In February 1933, when FDR was giving a speech in Miami, an anarchist got within several feet of the president-elect, fired several shots, and missed Roosevelt, hitting the mayor of Chicago instead. Had Giuseppe Zangara’s aim been true, and FDR’s vice president-elect "Cactus Jack" Garner assumed the presidency, the New Deal never would have happened. Conversely, if Lee Harvey Oswald had been a slightly worse marksman, JFK and the country would have been spared.

The deep historical force in the Kavanaugh affair is that women have finally had enough of a male privilege that goes back to King David. Powerful men get to have their way with women. Overturning that privilege is the most revolutionary force of our time. The random event is that Kavanaugh, who was apparently a drunk as well as a brute in high school, got picked for the high court rather than some other far-right court nominee, who might have sailed through. 

Another deep historical force is the decades-long corruption of the Republican Party, to the point where Republican leaders are willing to make common cause with an aspiring dictator if that serves their ends. The random event is the question of which way Senators Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins will vote. That, in turn, will depend largely on Dr. Ford’s credibility as a live witness: deep forces and random events.

As for Trump’s presidency, it is a big dose of random bad luck for the American republic. But it is also the result of a decades-long pattern of leaders of both parties turning their back on America’s working people, who were sufficiently aggrieved that they resorted to a fake populist crackpot tyrant. 

Based on some random events, American democracy may yet be spared—or not. Either way, a close-run thing.