February 25th, 2010

Susan Estrich, please check your facts: single party dominance

I happen to like Susan Estrich more than I do most liberal Democrat pundits. She isn’t afraid to criticize her own party, for example (see this and this).

But Estrich lost me at the starting gate when this article of hers began thusly:

Something has gone very wrong.

Was it just a year ago that Democrats assumed more control in Washington than the party has had in my lifetime? It was.

Actually, Susan, it wasn’t.

Estrich was born in 1952, and therefore could be said to have been alive and even sentient during the Carter administration. In fact, she was in her the middle of her last year at Harvard Law around the time Carter was inaugurated in January of 1977.

When the Democrat Carter was president, for the first two years of his administration he was dealing with a Congress that consisted of 292 Democrats to 143 Republicans in the House and 61 Democrats and 39 Republicans in the Senate. That’s an even more powerful Democrat presence in Congress than Obama has enjoyed.

And the second two years of the Carter administration weren’t far behind the first two: 277-D to 153-R in the House, 58-D to 41-R in the Senate. Compare this to the present Congress under Obama, 258-D to 177-R in the House (although it keeps changing slightly due to deaths and retirements) and 57-D (down from 58 at the outset), 2 Independents who caucus with Democrats, and 41-R (up from 40 with Scott Brown’s election).

What’s more, if we’re really talking about the lifetime of Susan Estrich, the first two years of the Carter administration don’t even set the record for Democrat dominance in Washington. For the first two years of his administration, JFK had a Congress that consisted of 262-D to 175-R in the House, and a powerful majority in the Senate: 64-D to 36-R. The next Congress, which was shared by Kennedy and then LBJ after the assassination, was very similar, with even more Senate dominance: 258-D to 176-R in the House and 67-D to 33-R in the Senate. And these numbers were increased in the first two years of LBJ’s second term: 295-D to 140-R in the House and 68-D to 32-R in the Senate (nor did they fall so very much below that for the second two years of his second term: 248-D in the House and 64-D in the Senate). When you think about LBJ’s legislative record, remember that, not only did he know the ins and outs of Congress intimately in a way few presidents have, he also had the benefit of majorities that very few have ever known.

So Obama’s lead is hardly unprecedented. In fact, it is dwarfed by other years of Democrat dominance in the second half of the 20th century. Republicans never enjoyed such power during the same period; for the most part, Republican presidents have had to contend with Democratic Congresses or mixed or weakly Republican ones.

Even if we take the entire 20th Century, we’d have to go back to the very beginning—Teddy Roosevelt—to get Republican majorities and a Republican President that begin to approach the Obama/Kennedy/LBJ/Carter figures. Herbert Hoover’s first term came close as well, but then there was a long period of Democrat dominance, culminating in the most strongly one-sided administration and Congress of all during the 75th Congress, the first two years of FDR’s second term: a whopping 333 Democrats in the House and 75 in the Senate. In fact, although that was the peak, the numbers held up pretty well for several elections, with FDR enjoying huge majorities right up until the 78th Congress in 1943, when the Democrats’ grip finally loosened a bit, down to 57 in the Senate and 222 in the House, poor things.

Why am I going into this in such detail? The first point I want to make is that these facts are very easy to check (although I composed this rather quickly, so wouldn’t it be ironic if, in attempting to correct Estrich’s error, I made a few myself?). I continue to be surprised at the sloppiness of the supposed political experts and their sweeping allegations about history. Anyone who was around during those years might not have known the exact figures (I certainly didn’t). But for anyone with a memory, a warning bell should have gone off at Estrich’s claim.

The second point is that, ever since the Great Depression, Democrats have held the reins of government more often and more tightly than Republicans have. The first time this occurred the result was the New Deal, the second time the Great Society. The third was the surprisingly weak administration of Jimmy Carter (he and his Democratic Congress failed to get along). Except for the Camp David accords, the main events of the Carter’s years were negative: losing Iran to the mullahs, and stagflation. What will be Obama’s legacy?

26 Responses to “Susan Estrich, please check your facts: single party dominance”

  1. Thomas Says:

    Having the mullahs get the bomb and stagflation…..

  2. Artfldgr Says:

    The first point I want to make is that these facts are very easy to check


    AMAZINGLY so.. no?

    and i will point out to people, that since most of my posts are about facts, unknown facts, inaccuracies, propaganda.

    the easiest way to get my posts short, is get the facts right.

    so right now… there really isnt anything to say!!!

    i could expand, but thats not my point when i post.

    no ignorance here… i have to move on :)

  3. DaveH Says:

    I think Carter might be out of the pres. respect cellar with Obama taking his place.

  4. kcom Says:

    Actually, Neo, you did make one error I noticed. You said John Kennedy had a powerfully filibuster-proof majority in the Senate of 64-D to 36-R. Back in those days, the filibuster required 67 votes to override, not the current 60. So he didn’t have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, although it was close. The filibuster rule changed in 1975, dropping the requirement from 67 votes to 60.

  5. neo-neocon Says:

    kcom: thanks, I’ll correct it. I knew I’d make a mistake somewhere! I actually had some recollection of some sort of change in the filibuster rule, but I was rushing and didn’t check it out. That’ll teach me. Good catch!

  6. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    I am not a fan of Estrich, without being able to point to exactly what it is, there’s something about her that I find a bit grating. I do like Pat Cadell who is, as far as I can tell, intellectually honest and for a former Carter pollster, surprisingly moderate.

    I would suggest that Estrich’s selective memory in regard to Carter is simply a case of ignoring his time in office because of his singular ineffectiveness. He’s an embarrassment and considered an anomaly.

    As for the prior examples you cited neo, historical provincialism is quite common nowadays, for many, anything that happened prior to their lifetimes is not only irrelevant but ‘not quite real’. Narcissism?

  7. Gringo Says:

    Which reminds me of a flash from the past:
    the Zogby poll of ∅bama voters, which found out the following:

    In addition to questions regarding statements and scandals associated with the campaigns, the 12-question, multiple-choice survey also included a question asking which political party controlled both houses of Congress leading up to the election — 57% of Obama voters were unable to correctly answer that Democrats controlled both the House and the Senate.

    But Rethuglicans are those ignorant knuckle-dragging troglodytes. The Democrats are the Party of the People- those who are more knowledgeable and above average.

  8. huxley Says:

    BTW, the correct link to the Estrich article: http://www.creators.com/opinion/susan-estrich/what-went-wrong.html

    In other respects I thought it was a good opinion piece. Unlike most Democrats, Estrich gets to the meat of the real problem Obama is facing with healthcare:

    The White House is trying to treat the problem with its health care proposal as a communications problem.
    It’s not that people don’t want the plan; they just don’t know how great it is. Our fault, says the president, for not communicating more effectively.

    Not so fast.
    It’s not a communications problem. What’s gone wrong is that people see the country swimming in debt, see the jobs recovery lagging, see friends and neighbors who are not even hanging on, and they just don’t know how this administration is planning to pay for a massive health care reform effort.

  9. neo-neocon Says:

    huxley: thanks for the link. It seems to have changed from when I first noted it.

    I agree that Estrich, as she has several times before, seems to understand the problems much better than most Democrats. She doesn’t always parrot the talking points and the spin du jour.

  10. SteveH Says:

    “”there’s something about her that I find a bit grating”"
    Geoffrey Britain

    I had that too. Then figured out its because she sounds just like Carol Channing :)

  11. neo-neocon Says:

    Geoffrey Britain and SteveH: I figured that out quite some time ago.

  12. Artfldgr Says:

    there’s something about her that I find a bit grating

    yeah.. she is progressive..

    so when your not looking her mask comes off

    “If you want to put women in the White House, people have to start changing their view of what the president looks like, … We’ve had one after another handsome, white, male chief executives.”

    not much different than Van Jones and his commentary that certain people have to step down.

    So many of us had hoped that the civil system might be an alternative for some women, where the burdens were a little bit less, and cases might be easier to prove.

    [sounds honest eh?]

    Women are not required in general to be named in rape cases because of the stigmas that go with being a rape complainant, and frankly, special burdens that rape complainants often face.

    which is why guys like the one recently in the post served 4 years for no crime… and i can list tons of them. yuo see, when thsi is the way the law is skewed, you also skew outcomes.. and thats the goal… in this way, i nearly went to jail for nothing more than once.. and your guilty now until proven innocent (if your a guy)

    remember the duke guys? how come they were innocent but had their reputations destroyed. and the one that recently is now up on charges for trying to set her boyfriend on fire (a feminist burning bed thing), was protected.

    it violates the constitution to do this
    it makes some people presumptively less equal!!!

    if the alleged purpetrator gets to have his face there…
    and he is Alledgedly innocent until proven guilty, then the person seeking charges has to be exposed as well, because thats EQUAL under the eyes of the law…

    but, a woman making charges is MORE THAN EQUAL. she gets to be protected and the other is assumed guilty by this change.

    thanks estrich, thanks mackinnon

    constitutions been sidestepped by progressives again

  13. SteveH Says:

    Lol Neo..And i thought i was the only one noticed the Carol Channing thing. Strange thing about human similarities. It took me 3 or 4 years to figure out this one guy i met seemed familiar simply because he walked just exactly like someone else i knew.

  14. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    SteveH and neo,

    By George, I think you’ve got it! Though I never disliked Channing, perhaps because she wasn’t much on my ‘radar screen’ of the movies I watched.


    No its not that she’s a progressive, as my mention of Cadell, another progressive, demonstrates. I don’t agree with him either but he doesn’t grate on me, yet I agree with others that Estrich is sometimes quite reasonable, as she has been of late. She recognizes what Brown’s election in Mass means for instance, just as Cadell does and she gets the health care debate issue.

    On another matter, while I may have misunderstood, you appear to be denigrating the idea of women in high office. If so, I cannot agree, though I’ll preface my approval upon the caveat that for a woman to serve as President, she must be able to make the really hard decisions; sending good people into harms way knowing some or perhaps all will die with the certain result of shattered families and even orphaned children. Or making the decision to kill 100,000 Japanese men, women and children in order to save millions who would otherwise be lost.

    Tough mindedness is not a gender-dependent quality but it is absolutely a critical necessity for a nation’s leader.

  15. Roy Lofquist Says:

    No defense of Carter, but stagflation was not his fault. Remember the WIN (Whip Inflation Now) buttons sported by the Nixon/Ford administration? Didn’t think so. But I do.

    So, who’s fault? LBJ’s. The irresponsible fiscal policy of “Guns and Butter” – Vietnam and The Great Society – severely weakened the dollar. Our European friends, in abrogation of The Bretton Wood Agreement, raided Fort Knox. This forced Nixon to close the gold window – the guarantee of an ounce of gold for $35. This was an effective devaluation of the dollar. Poor Jimmah just happened to be around for the brown blizzard.

    Communications problem? The picture comes to mind of the marketing VP at Ford who said “Maybe if we added a little chrome they’d like the Edsel”.

  16. kcom Says:

    “As for the prior examples you cited neo, historical provincialism is quite common nowadays, for many, anything that happened prior to their lifetimes is not only irrelevant but ‘not quite real’. Narcissism?”

    Hey, Geoffrey, guess what? I bet the Dems don’t even remember this, and it happened less than five years ago. I’m sure they’ll argue it’s some fancy CGI trick that Breitbart dreamed up and not real video.

    Who needs historical amnesia of events before their lifetime when instead they can pretend to forgets that happened that they were personally involved in.

  17. Geoffrey Britain Says:


    Yes. Denial and ‘amnesia’ are such wonderfully convenient things, when seeking to maintain an agenda, are they not?

    As always, for true believers, the ends always justify the means. Of course, when the ends sought threaten the constitutional and economic vitality of the republic…

  18. Brian Swisher Says:

    Roy, I remember the WIN buttons…I also remember that some wag suggested that they should be worn upside-down so as to read NIM – No Immediate Miracles…

  19. Wm Lawrence Says:

    “something about her that I find a bit grating” Aside from her politics it has to be her voice. Like listening to a wood chipper…

  20. Nolanimrod Says:

    Dear Geoff,

    something about her that I find a bit grating.

    How’s this? She makes Fran Drescher sound like Glenda Jackson?

  21. Nolanimrod Says:

    There is one big diff between then and now. Back then the Dem powers were people like Henry Jackson, Herman Talmadge, Sam Rayburn, and Dan Rostenkowski. Compare them to Henry Waxman, Barney Frank, Dick Durban, and the latest up-and-comer, Al Franken.

  22. Nolanimrod Says:

    P.S. The one Democrat who acted like Dems of yore they kicked out of the party.

  23. Mike, New York Says:

    Although the democrats had large senate majorities under JFK and Carter, many of those democratic senators were from the south, and quite conservative. On many issues, informal alliances of republicans and southern democrats blocked the liberal agenda. Although Estrich’s point is clearly wrong as stated, it IS probably true that this is the first time in her adulthood (or mine, born 1944) that liberals have had such solid control of both houses. Today the democratic party is so fully dominated by liberals, it has become quite common to project this current polarization back into the past and forget the power conservative democrats once held. Today’s democratic congressional leadership is not only liberal, it is overwhelmingly bi-costal and urban as well.

  24. Bob From Virginia Says:

    Very good point Nolanimrod, the Dem party is now a hang out of impractical dreamy lefties, not the grown-ups of Scoop Jackson’s time.

  25. I R A Darth Aggie Says:

    I continue to be surprised at the sloppiness of the supposed political experts and their sweeping allegations about history.

    Why does this continue to suprise you? US history education is poor at best, and mostly useless, or indoctrination at worst. So the typical person defaults to history begins on the day I was born and political history begins on the day I started paying attention.

    So it isn’t surprising to me that Estrich (and many of her peers) falls into the same pattern.

  26. neo-neocon Says:

    Mike: you may be correct vis a vis lbierals, although the Carter years were fairly liberal (post-Vietnam). Right now I think the Democrats’ leaderhship in Congress is the most liberal it’s ever been. But that’s not what Estrich was saying.

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