I began thinking about the frustration that many Democrats (not necessarily Johnnykaje) feel over the fact that, despite having rather large majorities in Congress (258 to 177 in the House, 58-40-2 in the Senate) and Barack Obama in the White House, conservatives—whether they call themselves Republicans or Democrats—still seem to be able to block legislation most Democrats want to see passed.
And while I share that frustration, the wrong thing to do would be to force out—through some kind of ideological litmus test—those Democrats who only marginally fit the traditional Democratic profile. That would essentially guarantee conservative victories, so it’s a non-starter, as all the leaders in the Democratic Party realize, but it’s damned tempting.
But part of the Democratic frustration stems from the fact that historically, when Democrats enjoyed strong majorities, great things were done. In 1935, Social Security was passed under Democratic leadership, not just in Congress, but in the person of Franklin Roosevelt. In 1965, Medicare was passed, again under strong Democratic leadership from Congress and Lyndon Johnson.
So, I looked at the composition of those Congresses from those two years, and here’s what I found: The Democratic majority in both houses was not just strong, but unassailable.
Here’s a breakdown, keeping in mind there are 58 Dems in the current Senate and 258 Dems in the current House:
1935 U.S. Senate
Democrats 69 Republicans 25 Other 2
[Missouri: Democrats 2]
1935 U.S. House of Representatives
Democrats 322 Republicans 103 Other 10
[Missouri: Democrats 6 Republicans 1—Yes, it was the 7th District!]
1935 Legislative Highlights
Social Security Act, which included Aid to Dependent Children
National Labor Relations Act, which protected union organization
Rural Electrification Act
1965 U.S. Senate
Democrats 68 Republicans 32
[Missouri: Democrats 2]
1965 U.S. House of Representatives
Democrats 295 Republicans 140
[Missouri: Democrats 8 Republicans 2—7th District again]
Medicare and Medicaid (Social Security Act of 1965)
Voting Rights Act
Freedom of Information Act
Interestingly, today’s Missouri delegation—1 Democrat and 1 Republican in the Senate and 4 Democrats and 5 Republicans in the House—is by 1935 and 1965 standards, grossly skewed in favor of the Republicans.
So, when one stops and considers how powerful the Democratic Party was in the eras when Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid were passed, some of us probably expected too much with the relatively small majorities the party has today, and we’re going to have to learn to live with the word “compromise.”