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?