Charles M. Madigan, a professor at Roosevelt University, makes the following observation in the Chicago Tribune, while discussing the possibility of a political realignment.
A lot of people are disturbed by the possibility of realignment, largely because realignments change the direction of politics and government so completely that what comes after one bears little resemblance to what happened before.
Prof. Madigan isn’t sure if a realignment will occur, although he says that all the pieces are in place. But his point about realignments changing ‘the direction of politics so completely that what comes after one bears little resemblance to what happened before’ is one that I’ve been making to my liberal friends and on this page for about a year now. Politics is the art of the possible. As bad as the Bush years were, imagine if the Democrats had not retained the ability to filibuster. Imagine the kind of change the Bushies could have imposed on the country in that circumstance? It’s truly frightening to contemplate. And that is why the Republicans are getting really frightened as they look at the polls in the both the presidential and senate elections.
Years in the minority, where the Democrats have not been particularly effective, have led most of my progressive friends to a point of toxic cynicism. Most of them don’t think the Democrats would do the right thing even given the chance to do so unopposed. With experience as a teacher, it’s hard to argue with them. But there is another kind of experience that comes with a familiarity with a longer arc of history.
We’re on the cusp of an historic realignment of power. To put this in perspective, all historians see the 1980 election as a realignment and a clear marker of a change in attitudes about the government. And that’s true. But Ronald Reagan never controlled the House and didn’t control the Senate for his whole term. The real realignment didn’t reach fruition until the 2002 election, which gave Bush control of Congress. But, even in the 2003-2007 period, Bush had to confront the filibuster. [Bush controlled Congress for the first half of 2001, until Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont defected from the GOP caucus]. Obama, on the other hand, is poised to enter office with at least 250 Democratic members of the House and 58 members of the Senate. At this point, those numbers would be a slight disappointment. The last time a party enjoyed that level of power was in the 89th Congress (1965-1966).
Let’s take a look at that Congress’ legislative accomplishments:
* 1965-04-11 — Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Pub.L. 89-10, 79 Stat. 77
* 1965-07-30 — Social Security Act of 1965 including Medicaid and Medicare, Pub.L. 89-97, 79 Stat. 286
* 1965-08-06 — Voting Rights Act, Pub.L. 89-110, 79 Stat. 437
* 1965-10-03 — Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, (Hart-Celler Act, INS Act) Pub.L. 89-236
* 1965-10-20 — Motor Vehicle Air Pollution Control Act, Pub.L. 89-272, 79 Stat. 992, including Solid Waste Disposal Act
* 1965-11-08 — Higher Education Act, Pub.L. 89-329, 79 Stat. 1219
* 1966-04-13 — Uniform Time Act, Pub.L. 89-387, 80 Stat. 107
* 1966-09-06 — Freedom of Information Act, Pub.L. 89-554, 80 Stat. 383
* 1966-09-09 — National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, Pub.L. 89-563, 80 Stat. 718
* 1966-10-15 — National Historic Preservation Act, Pub.L. 89-665, 80 Stat. 915
* 1966-10-15 — Department of Transportation Act, Pub.L. 89-670, 80 Stat. 931
* 1966-11-02 — Cuban Adjustment Act, Pub.L. 89-732, 80 Stat. 1161
The sheer force of this progressive legislation, in combination with the escalating war in Vietnam, led to an electoral backlash in 1966 and again in 1968 and 1972. And I expect the next Congress, which is perhaps too cognizant of that backlash, to exercise more caution than the 89th Congress displayed. But, the point stands. On virtually every piece of legislation that Democrats have been working on in think-tanks over the last fourteen years, the assumption has been that a key component in crafting bills is to overcome the filibuster or win over moderate Republicans. This is actually a problem, because Democrats are not prepared to throw good bills into the queue that take advantage of our super or near super-majorities. But that will iron itself out. The Democrats, just like the media, just like my liberal friends, cannot yet imagine the kind of power they are about to inherit.
And it will change things in ways we can’t even anticipate.