« Ready for the debate | Main | Sinclair broadcasting »

Boston Globe report on Congress

The Boston Globe has performed a great overdue service with its three-part series detailing exactly how repressive of democracy and dissent the Republican congressional majority has been. The whole series deserves reading, and provides a lot of detail, both statistical and anecdotal, to support some points that I've made here over the past few months.

The big question that the series has raised in many quarters is, How much is this just revenge (in both senses of the word "just") for the horrible way that Democrats treated Republicans before 1994?

Eight or ten years ago, I would have been sympathetic to this question. The Republican takeover was a big deal in my life -- I would have been in line for a pretty interesting job running the staff of a Senate subcommittee had the Democrats retained control, and more importantly, it was obviously a terrible setback for the issues I cared about. But I also acknowledged that the arrogance of the House Democrats, who behaved as if they controlled that institution by some sort of divine sanction, had all but brought the disaster down on their own heads. I remember a conversation a few months before that election with a top staffer for the House leadership. We were working together on a provision of the giant crime bill that year that would have guaranteed a huge new investment in after-school programs (at a time when after-school programming was almost unknown), in the name of crime prevention. We had a disagreement about a detail in the amendment, and I pointed out that if her view prevailed, we might lose the support of several Republican Senators who were the key allies. "Since when do we give a shit about Republicans?" was her response.

Sure, this attitude was partly the cause of the Republican takeover, and for a while, some Democrats could console themselves that it was their just deserts. But that's a decade ago!! Despite their promise of institutional reform, the Republicans turned themselves into the House Democrats almost immediately, and then they kept going and going and going. In several respects, beyond the statistics marshalled by the Globe, the current situation is not remotely comparable to the pre-1994 Democratic hegemony:

First, a point I've made often, the current Republicans not only repress dissent from Democrats, they also force their own partisans to march in lockstep. The fact is that with tiny exceptions, either a moderate Republican like Chris Shays or a principled conservative is as thoroughly irrelevant as Los Angeles Democrat Henry Waxman. That was never true under Democratic rule, largely because until fairly recently, there were plenty of Blue Dog Democrats and others who maintained their independence and were willing to defy a Democratic president or align with a Republican president, as they did to pass Reagan's 1981 budget and tax proposals. That's not "bipartisanship," but it was more democracy and more give-and-take than under the current regime. What makes the current majority members willing to be lapdogs remains one of the great questions in my mind.

Second, the Democrats' control of the House had no analogue in the Senate, which depended entirely on bipartisan cooperation. Any Democrat who worked in the Senate during the period of Democratic control from 1986-1994 would be familiar with the question, "Who's your Republican?" In other words, if your boss wanted to introduce a bill and have it be taken seriously, or offer an amendment on the floor, or win some quiet concession in a negotiation, the very first thing you would need to find is a Republican cosponsor or ally, preferably more than one and preferably not always Senator Chafee! (That's why retaining the Republican supporters of after-school funding in the 1994 crime bill mentioned above was so critical: we had not only Senator Danforth of Missouri, but also Senators Domenici and Stevens, who were perceived as "real" Republicans.) I can't say for sure, but I have the feeling that "Who's your Democrat?" is not the first question asked when a Republican wants to introduce a bill or amendment.

Third -- and this goes without saying -- in the Democratic era, members of Congress got comfortable, a little greedy, and cut some corners. Speaker Jim Wright wrote a self-serving memoir and sold some copies of it to lobbyists. They used the House "bank" to get advances on their pay, and a few engaged in some real embezzlement. It's all trivial, though, compared with bribing members on the House floor to change their votes, blackmailing industries that hire Democratic lobbyists, and then one by one cashing out themselves for the biggest lobbying jobs they can find. (It's amazing to me that Democratic members of Congress like Waxman, George Miller, Ed Markey and others keep at it, even though they are completely without power, even though they have to work every bit as hard as when they were in power, late nights, weekends back in the district, etc., and it is the Republicans like Billy Tauzin and Jim Greenwood who cash out as soon as they have punched the clock with whatever chairmanship puts them in the best position for the $400,000/year job with country club membership.)

This is yet another example where, if there was once perhaps a case for some moral equivalence, it has long passed.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on October 11, 2004 | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Boston Globe report on Congress:

» Good Stuff from Wampum
Nicholas Lemann writing at the New Yorker on How George W. Bush reinvented himself. Via Patrick, an article on The Long Tail which is changing the way books, music and film are being sold. It is a hopeful article as... [Read More]

Tracked on Dec 27, 2004 8:08:24 AM

» blogging politicians - two unexpected ones from The Real Paul Jones
Former King of Cambodia, Norodom Sihanouk has a blog of mostly official papers that have been scanned. Interesting to see his underlinings and comments on things. Helpful if you can read French and/or Cambodian. He's been at it for over a year and his.... [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 28, 2005 5:57:04 PM

» Steph Vows Return of 'Starbury' from to say it again.
going to say it again. I played like Stephon Marbury this year. And next year I'm going to play like [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 25, 2006 12:56:46 PM

» Finding Information on the Internet from Net Search
The University of California Berkeley recommends search strategies, explains search tools, and gives guidance on evaluating and citing web pages... [Read More]

Tracked on May 3, 2006 3:13:45 PM

» Spurs' Horry Has Love-Hate Feel for Arco from it's Robert Horry.
anyone on the Spurs who knows how loud Arco Arena can get, it's Robert Horry. Horry has [Read More]

Tracked on May 20, 2006 1:11:45 AM

» James Stellar in Playoff Debut; Cavs Beat Wizards from and the Cleveland
and the Cleveland Cavaliers shut down the high-scoring trio of the Washington Wizards for a 97-86 victory in Game One [Read More]

Tracked on May 22, 2006 5:02:22 PM

» Highs and Lows from Festival -- and
were high at this year's Cannes International Film Festival -- and few films lived up to them. [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 7, 2006 7:18:33 PM

» Report: Kings To Interview Musselman Again from will interview
it was believed Whisenant had already been chosen by Kings co-owners and longtime friends Joe and Gavin Maloof. [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 8, 2006 12:13:04 AM

» How The White House Is Handling News Of Zarqawi's Capture from say, 'Look, we're
with White House Press Secretary Tony Snow, Rutenberg offers some insight [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 10, 2006 10:14:49 PM

» U.S. Accuses Abbott of Inflating Drug Prices from that it had joined
lawsuit accusing Abbott Laboratories of inflating the prices of drugs for government health care programs. [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 12, 2006 8:14:39 AM

» Consumption Of Fish Oil Does Not Appear To Protect Against Abnormal Heart Rhythms from did not have
rhythms or death by consuming fish oil supplements, which had been thought to have a protective [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 16, 2006 2:34:31 AM

» Terrorism: How to Fight It from Israel only worries
not to take orders from him, we would be under attack once again. Our continual [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 18, 2006 1:45:23 AM

» Fast-paced pair slow down - Melbourne Herald Sun from and Sandra Bullock
absurdity USA Today Right guy, wrong time Christian Science Monitor IGN - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 19, 2006 12:55:07 AM

» Mavs Finally Have Arrived from into an MVP-caliber
eight seasons, they have changed uniforms and players, coaches and philosophies, owners and attitudes, paint [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 30, 2006 11:38:30 AM

» Warmer waters disrupt Pacific food chain (AP) from Seagulls swarm
On these craggy, remote islands west of San Francisco, the largest seabird colony in the contiguous United States throbs with life. Seagulls swarm [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 24, 2006 11:25:04 AM

» FDA Pick Pressed On Morning-After Pill from Bush's nominee
President Bush's nominee to head the FDA on his surprise decision to consider allowing over-the-counter sales of the morning-after pill. Dr. Andrew [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 8, 2006 6:00:47 AM

» Baby Fat: When to Rejoice, When to Worry from As Nationwide
Fat: As Nationwide Obesity Mushrooms, Parents' Anxiety About Growing Children Grows [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 8, 2006 4:45:03 PM

» Road Projects a Casualty of Oil Crisis from Prices Escalate
Prices Escalate as Oil Prices Climb, Making Highway Projects More Expensive [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 9, 2006 8:10:25 AM


The question becomes, when this turns back around, how much should be done in the name of just deserts?
I think the answer is quite a lot. I can think of nothing that would be better for the country as a whole than the complete repudiation of the Bush administration and this Republican Congress. Those that are cashing in should be prosecuted if possible, but more likely a new Democratic coalition should put pressure on lobbying firms so that those jobs dry up. It should be made very clear that their behavior is unacceptable and will stain their legacy forever. Justice will be served if Tom DeLay's grandchildren need to change their last name so that they are not sullied with his reputation.

Posted by: theCoach | Oct 12, 2004 10:00:12 AM

I enjoyed this posting quite a bit, and accept -- readily -- the fact that Democrats (both office-holders and staff) occasionally acted like jerks. But it seems to me that, as you suggest, the insults to the GOP members were at some level fundamentally trivial.

Perhaps there's a good history out there on this, but my general readings in history have inclined me to think that most of the institutional rules that Congress observed until just a few years ago evolved -- primarily -- following the Civil War. Some went back even further, but almost all of the formal civility and careful allocation of perks to majority and minority parties were reinforced following that national calamity.

In the period 1865 to about 1932 inclusive, the GOP controlled one or both houses of Congress far more often than the Democrats. I'd have to go get a good political almanac to find out exactly when and how often control shifted, but the GOP was certainly very powerful through most of those decades. Doubtless there were various "outrages" committed over time, yet in general the political compact held and from this the long traditions of the institution evolved.

In 1933, the New Deal Democrats took over with a real sense of it being time to shake things up. Nonetheless, while being the majority had its (substantial) perks, it is my understanding that the Democrats did not begin changing the rules wholesale in an effort to screw the Republicans. And, in fact, the Republicans didn't do it either (e.g., after the 1950 election, or when they retook the Senate in the 1980 election either).

No, only THIS generation of GOP leaders have been so cavalier about the political compact that has guided our government. I think the changes could be seen even earlier (e.g., in the GOP's abject failure to extend Jimmy Carter the traditional "honeymoon" in 1977, duplicated by their unremitting warfare against Bill Clinton starting even before he was sworn in in January, 1993), but the full extent of their repudiation of the basic rules of civility and fair play in both House and Senate only became obvious with their victory in the 1994 election.

In asking whether this is "just revenge," or something more, I would ask: if it was simply revenge, wouldn't a perfect reversal of the rules and behavior have been more than enough? Yet, as the Boston Globe's series shows, the GOP seems to have adopted a pre-Old Testament view on it: a thousand eyes for an eye, and a thousand teeth for a tooth. It has been far more than "just revenge," and for a long time!

-- Roger Keeling
Portand, OR.

Posted by: Roger Keeling | Oct 13, 2004 2:05:36 PM

Oops -- a minor mis-statement in my posting above. In the last paragraph, I meant to say, "Wouldn't a perfect adherence to the rules and behaviors (previously followed by the Democrats) have been enough?" rather than use the word "reversal."

If the rules and procedures were so unfair to the Republicans when they were the minority, wouldn't they have been equally unfair (and hence, a perfect payback) to the Democrats when THEY were the minority? The fact that the GOP's leadership has seen fit to keep piling on ever more onerous humiliations and limitations is evidence that this is not about simple payback.

-- Roger

Posted by: Roger Keeling | Oct 13, 2004 2:12:22 PM

Since when has an equal action ever been enough to erase an injury?

That's just wishful thinking. Revenge begets greater overreaction, not justice.

Good justice is dispassionate, and when the justicar has something to gain, it simply doesn't exist.

Posted by: perianwyr | Oct 13, 2004 3:59:40 PM

Mark, you raise this question here:

What makes the current majority members willing to be lapdogs remains one of the great questions in my mind.

And I think you, at least partially, answer it here:

... and then one by one cashing out themselves for the biggest lobbying jobs they can find...

They're not in it for service, or devotion to principle. Being a lapdog positions them to get those cashouts.

Posted by: | Oct 15, 2004 7:27:09 PM

I have the feeling that "Who's your Democrat?" is not the first question asked when a Republican wants to introduce a bill or amendment.

This post and several others lately have been deeply enjoyable -- the result of a person writing entertainingly about something he knows very, very well. Thanks!

Posted by: Nell Lancaster | Oct 16, 2004 10:21:47 PM