Learning To Live With Compromise

Johnnykaje, fellow Globeblogger, started me thinking about something, when she commented on a piece by asking a hypothetical: Would it be good or bad, if the Blue Dog Democrats changed parties?

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]

Legislative Highlights

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.” 

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