How Congress Evolves
Work in Progress

I’d like to begin by thanking the management here at AEI for inviting me to talk this evening. This is my first public appearance at AEI since we lost our friend Herb Stein, and I’d like to dedicate this lecture to his memory.

I had some difficulty coming up with a topic before settling on the title "How Congress Evolves," the title of the book I have just written. I originally wanted to do something on the role of public intellectuals in Washington political discourse but then Richard Posner’s book came out. Very much to my surprise I discovered my own name on his long list of 550 public intellectuals, American and foreign, dead and alive—one of two active members of the Berkeley faculty as it happens in amongst scores of people from Harvard and Chicago.

This made me think of Groucho Marx’s remark when he was put up for membership in the only club in Los Angeles that would admit Jews. Marx said that he wouldn’t want to join any club that had such low standards as to be willing to admit him. So following his example I ditched the topic.

This approach commended itself to me for two additional reasons. First, it would give me the opportunity to avoid defending—or even describing—the crackpot methodology that led Judge Posner to such an odd dataset and second, it would give me a chance to mention Marx in a favorable context in a lecture at the American Enterprise Institute. I suppose we must overlook the fact that it is unfortunately the wrong Marx for maximum impact, but Groucho is definitely the Marx that Herb Stein and I had in common.


Before I give my main pitch, I’d like with your permission to indulge in a fairly elaborate wind-up, situating my book in a more general interpretation of American politics and government.

I have been finding it increasingly useful to think about modern American political institutions as active, adaptive organisms embedded in a system that changes around them, and that creates opportunities and requirements for them to change. A short census of some of the most important such changes over the last half century at the national level would look like this.

(1) The American Presidency, once firmly affixed to the Executive Branch, has since World War II increasingly detached itself from the permanent government and for purposes of policy formation evolved into an independent branch of government. This has had tremendous consequences for the Presidency, of course, some of which can be discerned by a comparative reading of the first, 1960, edition of Richard Neustadt’s book Presidential Power and the 1986 book by Sam Kernell, Going Public. But to my mind even more interesting has been the stress put on the permanent government by this development, some of it captured by Hugh Heclo’s book A Government of Strangers.

The central proposition, as I read it, of Presidential Power was something like this:

The Presidency has political interests independent of other actors in government, and these interests can be protected only by the President.

A silent corollary might be this:

The executive branch has political interests independent of other actors in the government, which in the large can be protected only by the President. The tension created by this corollary helps to explain a number of the serious problems that currently beset the executive branch, especially problems of recruitment and retention that appear to be tied to loss of responsible work by career civil servants, especially senior career civil servants. People tend to notice the so-called swelling of the Presidency, and attempt to gauge its effects on Congress, which can take care of itself, and has done so mainly by completely revamping its provision for staff. What we haven’t caught up with, in my estimation, is the impact on the permanent government.

(2) A second big institutional change, about which I have done a fair bit of writing, is the transformation of the presidential nominating process from a system dominated by state party leaders to a system dominated by primary elections and the news media. We are still working our way through this big change. The latest wrinkles have to do with the resurgence of notables (not necessarily state party leaders) as endorsers and bundlers of money, the rise of centralized parties as soft money banks, the legislative attack on soft money and on independent expenditures, and so on. This domain gives political scientists opportunities to appear onstage as expert witnesses, pundits, seers and moralists, a welcome relief, I daresay, from teaching and research.

(3) Third: The U.S. Senate, which long ago was supposed to represent the interests of the state legislatures in national politics, lost this function with the 17th Amendment at the turn of the 20th century, if, indeed, it ever worked the way it was supposed to work. By the 1950’s, the Senate was still quite parochial, a club dominated by aged buffalo interested in slowing the impact of the New Deal, always excepting agricultural subsidies for Southern farmers and sweetheart taxes for the oil industry. The advent of nation-wide television and the example of Estes Kefauver in exploiting his TV-created notoriety to run for President flipped the role of the Senate in the political system from parochial to cosmopolitan in a few short decades. It is a complicated story and although it happened in plain sight over the last half century, it’s still a story mostly untold.

(4) Now we come to the part of the picture occupied by the U.S. House of Representatives, the topic of my book.


My book is about the very large change in the House that began with the failure of the so-called 2nd New Deal. From roughly 1937 onward the famous conservative coalition of Dixiecrats and Republicans mostly thwarted the peacetime policy initiatives of liberal Democratic presidents from Franklin Roosevelt through John Kennedy, for almost three decades. Soon thereafter, the House began to liberalize, and majority sentiment in the majority party began to find expression in legislation. This emerging liberal dominance of the House persisted for as long as the Democrats remained in the majority. When the Republicans took over, after the 1994 elections, their management of the House was described as a revolution, but it mostly reflected patterns of leadership coordinated by strong ideological cohesion that Republicans had generally employed on their side of the aisle all along, and produced an overall pattern of partisan antagonism between Republicans and Democrats recommended by the long-gone Committee on Political Parties of the American Political Science Association in their famous report, "Toward a More Responsible Two-Party System."

So the story of my book is mostly about what it took for the majority of the majority party to emerge and come to control the legislative process. It begins with the Speakership of Sam Rayburn, who led the Democratic party in the House from his election as Speaker in 1940 until his death on November 16, 1961. Rayburn led a sharply divided House Democratic party which embraced a very large southern minority. Around 40% of the Democrats in the House were Southerners, of which about 60%, or about 60 to 65 members were Dixiecrats fairly regularly voting against the majority of their party. The southern proportion of the caucus varied in size mostly according to the electoral success of Democrats in the North.

Twenty years into this regime, in 1956, Rayburn traveled out to Uvalde, Texas, to visit with his predecessor, the aged John Nance Garner, and complained about the difficulty of managing a party thus divided. Garner said, "Why don’t you take those fellows into caucus and bind ‘em?" Rayburn replied:

John, you haven’t been around the House in 20 years. You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. You can’t do that anymore . . . You get in that caucus and a wild man from the North will get up and make a wild speech. Then someone from another section will answer him with a wild speech. First thing you know you’ve got the Democratic party so divided you can’t pass anything.

It wasn’t merely wild speeches that worried Rayburn. The conservative coalition—consisting of roughly 60% Republicans and 40% Democrats for most of Rayburn’s speakership—actually mobilized a majority in the House on a fair number of votes, and when they did, they frequently won.

In this era, the seniority system locked into committee chairmanships large numbers of Dixiecrats, who therefore controlled the substantive agenda of the House and prevented many measures proposed by liberals—frequently representing the majority of the majority party—from coming to the floor for a vote.

There is a wonderful literature dating from this period—what we might call the Jurassic Period of the House of Representatives—in which larger-than-life conservatives with very sharp teeth—mostly Southern Democrats—headed up the committees, controlling staff, hearings, agendas, and subcommittee assignments, and making many a hearty meal out of liberal legislation.

The caucus in Rayburn’s time was more or less inoperative except every two years at the beginning of Congress it would meet to ratify en bloc the mostly automated committee assignments of the Committee on Committees and, on the floor, to vote for Rayburn for Speaker.

Indeed, in Rayburn’s famous last battle, over the packing of the Rules Committee in early 1961, which of course was about getting control of the agenda of the House in behalf of the incoming Kennedy administration, even then Rayburn refused to use the caucus to instruct the Committee on Committees. This was an arena where he would have won with relative ease, but fearing repercussions, he took the fight to the House floor, where he prevailed very narrowly. (217-212)

This was a great story, and everybody who was watching Congress at the time paid attention to it, and wrote about it. A lot of the pent-up frustrations of liberals and New Dealers during the Truman and Eisenhower years—indeed since 1937—came out in that 1961 vote. Not even the Democratic landslide of 1958 made liberal legislation possible because Dwight Eisenhower was still in the White House. The main legislative achievement of the ensuing Congress was the Landrum-Griffin bill, bitterly opposed by labor unions.

The frustrations of those years did have an important institutional consequence. Not all liberal Democrats enjoyed being out-organized and outgunned by the Conservative Coalition and, deprived of the caucus as an organizational weapon, they began to meet and put together an informal association called the Democratic Study Group that would help them think through legislative priorities, that could supply them with background material on legislation when the committees were controlled by Dixiecrats, and even act as an informal whip system. Their main problem was to avoid antagonizing Rayburn and the leadership.

After Rayburn died, and John McCormack became Speaker, with a Democrat in the White House, the DSG became a little bolder, and in 1963, they made a little history by mobilizing the caucus against McCormack, and preventing the appointment of an able Dixiecrat—Phil Landrum, in fact—to the Ways and Means Committee. Thereafter by slow stages the caucus began to awaken from its Rip Van Winkle-like sleep. Over the next decade, on repeated initiatives of the Study Group, the Democratic party revised its rules and procedures and slowly the liberal majority took possession of the Democratic party in the House.

By the end of the 1970s, the power structure of the House of Representatives had been very substantially remodeled. It was done incrementally, at the start of successive Congresses, by changes instigated in the Democratic caucus mostly by the Democratic Study Group. The Rules Committee, for nearly half a century predominantly a force independent of the majority leadership, was transformed into an arm of the leadership by giving the Speaker the right to appoint its members outside the regular committee assignment process. The leadership itself was greatly reinvigorated: the powers of the Speaker grew, a Steering and Policy Committee with real functions was established and the whip system was expanded. The authority of committee chairmen shrank as formal powers were devolved to subcommittees and their chairmen, and committee chairmanships were no longer automatically allocated or sustained by the seniority system. The Democratic caucus changed its rules and instead of ratifying the entire roster of committee assignments in a single voice vote began voting by secret ballot on individual chairmen at the beginning of each Congress. In 1975 the Watergate class of newly elected Democrats provided the troops to overthrow four committee chairmen in a historic bloodletting. The main issue though not the only one was party loyalty. Incentives to specialize in the substance of legislation and oversight were spread more broadly among the members as more opportunities for influence at the subcommittee level were created. This led to the taking of more initiatives at the subcommittee level and to more legislative activity among a larger proportion of Democratic members.


This large cluster of changes was of course highly visible to the naked eye to those of us who were paying attention to Congress in the 60s and 70s. So the question became: why did it happen? The next part of this paper is my best shot at an explanation.

The DSG probably could not have prevailed had not the composition of the Democratic caucus changed drastically in their favor. As the landslide election of 1958 showed, an enormous influx of northern and western liberals was not enough. What did the job was the near disappearance of Dixiecrats from the Democratic caucus, from around one quarter of all Democrats in Rayburn’s time to only 5% by 1990 and thereafter.

These Dixiecrats disappeared not because southern voters had become less conservative but because they were becoming, of all things, Republicans, and sending Republicans to Congress to represent them.

To those of us raised on V. O. Key, and maybe to others as well, the rise of Southern Republicans was a remarkable turn of events. After all, for nearly a full century the Republican party had only a tiny toehold in the South. In congressional politics, fewer than 10 southern seats were reliably Republican, up on the spine of the Appalachian mountains, in eastern Tennessee and western Virginia and North Carolina. These mountain precincts had no stake in the southern cause in the Civil War. The subsistence farmers of the mountain country planted no cash crops and kept no slaves, and by and large they opposed secession

In the 1930s, for a decade or so, the Germans of the Texas hill country sent a Republican to Congress—Harry Wurzbach of Seguin—but it was not until 1954, just a decade short of a century after the Civil War, that the South outside the Appalachian ridge sent its first Republican to Congress in a lastingly safe Republican seat. This was Bill Cramer of St. Petersburg, Florida. By the 86th Congress, elected in 1960, just seven southern seats were held by Republicans. These were Bruce Alger of Dallas county and Joel Broyhill of the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., Cramer, and four Mountain Republicans: Howard Baker and B. Carroll Reece from eastern Tennessee, Richard Poff from southwest Virginia, and Charles Raper Jonas from the Blue Ridge of North Carolina. That was all.

Political scientists in the South had been tracking the growth of Republican voting since the Eisenhower elections. It occurred mostly in cities and in suburbs and among the well to do and it was mostly voting at the Presidential level. The late Bernard Cosman of the University of Alabama did an especially thorough job studying the 1954 election of Bruce Alger, precinct by precinct. The Dallas Republican vote was especially strong in newly-settled suburbs. Alger’s party precinct chairmen were not like Democrats. They tended to be Episcopalians, not Baptists, business people, not lawyers, and newcomers to the Dallas area.

The location of that St. Petersburg Florida seat also suggested that migration to the south was helping the Republican party. From 1952 onward, the National Election Studies has asked respondents where they were born, along with party identifications, and so it is possible to track the prevalence of Northern-born Republicans in their samples of the Southern voting population. Sure enough, Republicans who might have been coming south for the winter before the mid-1950’s were staying and establishing voting residences from the 1950s onward in greater and greater numbers.

There might have been all sorts of reasons for this to have happened. Since the 1930’s lots of federal development money had been diverted southward by Congressional leaders from the South: army bases, rural electrification, TVA, space stations. Farm technology—tractors, harvesters, pesticides—had long since transformed the rural south, and World War II factory jobs had drawn sizeable numbers of African Americans north and agricultural workers into the cities.

What made the decade of the 1950’s special in the South was the coming of air conditioning, first in work-places, and then, massively, in private residences. This made the South habitable all year round for northerners, who brought their northern voting habits with them.

The historian of the rise of air conditioning in the south is Raymond Arsenault, who notes that in 1947, residential air conditioning . . . accounted for only 2 percent of the industry’s business. By 1950 the figure had risen to 5 percent, but in most areas the air-conditioned home remained a novelty. In 1951, the inexpensive, efficient window unit finally hit the market, and sales skyrocketed, especially in the South. . . . By 1955 one out of every twenty-two American homes had some form of air conditioning. In the South the figures were closer to one in ten.

Precise numbers on this phenomenon targeted to specific congressional districts are impossible to come by, but crude numbers for the states and the region as a whole support the general argument. We can demonstrate, for example, that residential air conditioning did arrive in the southern states after World War II and rapidly spread, especially to new homes as U.S. Census figures attest.

The swift arrival of air conditioning can also be shown by watching trends in residential energy use, comparing winter and summer, south and non-south. The distinctive southern pattern shows rapid post-war growth in summertime energy use as compared to winter, tracking the introduction of southern air conditioning, which runs away from northern summer residential energy consumption over the same period.

We can also note a shift in the post-war decades in which southern states, while continuing to receive new residents, presumably life-long Democrats from other southern states, in addition received greatly augmented streams of migration from other sections of the country. It is reasonable to presume that these non-southern states were where new Republicans were coming from.

Looking at the age distribution of the north-to-south migrants as compared with the south-to-south migrants, we find a pattern compatible with an influx of prosperous retirees from the north.

If enough northern Republicans settled in an area, local Dixiecrat politicians—especially those who wanted to serve in Congress—could contemplate switching over to the national party they were ideologically more compatible with, and a fair number did. One conspicuous example was Trent Lott, who worked on Capitol Hill for William Colmer, the Mississippi Democrat who served for so many years on the House Rules Committee. When Colmer died in 1972, Lott went home to Pascagoula, switched to the Republican party, ran for Colmer’s old seat, and won.

By then there was an added incentive for conservative Democrats to switch: the Voting Rights Act of 1965 brought an enormous influx of new voters into the southern electorate, and these on the whole were bound to be a force for the liberalization of the Democratic parties of the South.

But the effects of air conditioning began to kick in during the mid-1950s, preceding the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by about a decade.

In the summer of 1993 I went to Washington to visit with Southern Republican members of Congress. By then about 48 of the 100 or so Southern seats were held by Republicans. (It’s now well over half, 72 Republicans, 52 Democrats.) I asked them, basically, two questions: when and why did you become a Republican, and when and why did your seat become Republican.

Virtually everybody mentioned northern migration as a factor, usually the predominant factor. I wish I had time to read you a lot of quotes from these interviews. But a few of them will give you the idea. Here’s Floyd Spence of South Carolina:

"I served in the state legislature for six years as a Democrat. . . . [A]ll the while I was voting on the national level for Republicans for president even though I was a local Democrat. We didn’t have any Republicans. Didn’t know any Republicans. I hadn’t seen any Republicans. All I heard about them was bad."

Q: When did you change parties?

A: 1962.

Q: What was the impetus?

A: A group of young people calling themselves Republican had moved in from the north. They wanted to know why I wouldn’t change parties and run as a Republican for Congress. And I thought about it. I couldn’t very well run as a Democrat, I didn’t think, given the way I felt philosophically. I’d get up here, you know, and I would be blocked in—voting against my own beliefs in a way. And feeling how I did about things I thought people just voted for me regardless of party so I went and changed parties. And the whole roof fell in. My kids were ostracized at school. My minister called me up and said they were praying for me. I was the first one in the state in public office to change parties. (This was, he said, before Strom Thurmond switched.)

Floyd Spence was born in 1928, and so, like many Southern Republicans of his generation, had started life as a Democrat. Here’s the story of a younger member, Jim McCrery of Louisiana.

"When I was growing up I didn’t even know that Republicans ran for office in Louisiana."

Q: Were your parents Democratic?

A: Oh, sure. I was too.

Q: When did you switch over?

A: About six or seven years ago. When I went in to register to vote, I think I was 19 or 20 at the time, the law changed . . . right when I was 19 or 20 ... So I went in to register to vote and told the registrar that my father was a registered Democrat but had voted for every Republican president in my lifetime. So I grew up hearing my father talk about how good the Republican presidents were and how bad the Democratic presidential nominees were. So I said to the registrar of Garden Parish in Louisiana., I said, "I want to register Republican." She said, "No, you don’t." I said, "Yes, I really do." She said, "No, you don’t want to register Republican." I said, "Why?" She said, "Well, you want to be able to vote for Sheriff Turner don’t you?" "Well, yes ma’am. Friend of the family." "You want to be able to vote for clerk so and so?" And I said, "Yes, ma’am." She said, "Well, if you register Republican you won’t be able to vote for them." I said, "I beg your pardon?" She said, "Well, they run in the Democratic primary. And that is the election. There is no general election because we don’t ever have a Republican primary. There is no Republican primary. So, if you register Republican you won’t be able to vote in the local elections." I said, "Oh gee, I don’t want that." So I registered Democrat. And that is how a lot of people my age came to be Democrats—because they couldn’t vote in local elections if they registered Republican.

Q: What changed?

A: It was a very gradual thing. It started at the presidential level and now it is slowly but surely seeping down into the congressional level. And then in some states it is even seeping down into the local level. It hasn’t in Louisiana and probably won’t for some time. Louisiana is different. But in South Carolina; you see a lot of local Republican office holders. North Carolina. You are starting to see that in Texas with the State Supreme Court. It is dominated now by Republicans. . . . [W]hen Joe Waggonner [D., La.] retired in 1978 there was an open seat. And a lot more people ran for the seat and a Republican . . . got in a run-off. I don’t know how many candidates. Probably ten candidates or so running for an open seat. [S]o I knew it was possible for a Republican to win in that congressional district even though it would be very difficult. And so, knowing that it was possible, it was easy for me to switch.

Q: That was what year?

A: Spring of 1988. But actually I made the switch in ’87. As soon as Buddy Roemer, my predecessor, was elected Governor, that threw open his seat and that was in the fall of ’87. And I was still registered Democrat. So I had to make a decision then whether to switch or not. It was easy for me to make the decision to switch because I didn’t want to be a Democratic congressman. I would rather not serve than be a Democrat in Congress.

In aggregate, southern Republicans in the 103rd Congress displayed the following characteristics:

(1) Nearly half of the members born before 1945 were converts from the Democratic party. Those born after World War II were much more likely always to have been Republican.

(2) About half of the native southerners were converts to the Republican party. Almost all of the members born outside the south had always been Republican. Northern migrants have clearly been an important source of new blood for the Republican party in southern states.

(3) Most of the younger members were home-grown southerners; over a third of the older members were migrants.

(4) They are virtually all quite conservative, with high ACU ratings, low ADA ratings. Twenty-two of the 48 southern Republicans had a net score (ACU–ADA rating) of 90 or above in 1993. Another eight scored 80 or above. Lincoln Diaz-Balart of south Florida and Arthur Ravenel of South Carolina scored a net of 40 points conservative above liberal. These were the most liberal of the 48 southern Republicans in the 103rd Congress.

It was fun to talk with these people. Politicians—a great many of them—are specialists in human relations and if they will let us in to see them, and we are willing to go, they can tell professors a lot of what we need to know in order to make sense of their world. I suppose the two best moments for me were these. I was asking the member from suburban Orlando Florida how he became a Republican.

"My father," he began. "Wait a minute," I said. "You’re a Southern politician. Southern politicians don’t have fathers, they have daddies." "Oh, hell," he said, "I’m from Binghamton, New York, and so are most of my constituents."

Another high point was getting the big picture from Newt Gingrich <../scholars/gingrich.htm>. Where were the Republican voters coming from?, we asked him.

You have the Civil War Yankee vote in the mountains; that is still there. It hasn’t changed a whole lot. It atrophied slightly, but not much. . . . You’ve got a floating racist coalition which was Republican on the national ticket but very Democrat locally....[T]his is the old world Democrat machine everywhere. . . .You have the rising suburbanites who are Republicans unless the Republican gets too racist. . . . [Y]ou have a whole wave of college educated southerners merging with the influx of Yankees. . . . One of the interesting patterns you may have already picked up is that if you take a list of states and rank order them in terms of where the people are going. . . Georgia is radically more open to new people and almost all southern states are.

Q: Florida certainly.

A: Yes. Literally, when you go across the south, it is astonishing the immigration that is going on. Even in places in Mississippi: Biloxi and Pascagoula and those places. . .

Q: You date that from when?

A: The immigration began with the invention of air conditioning. . . . It is three big things. It is the impact of air conditioning. It is the extraordinary impact in the south of the best parts of the New Deal—REA, TVA, that sort of thing. And it is the intelligent use by [Rep. Carl] Vinson and [Sen. Richard] Russell [both Georgia Democrats] and other southerners of World War II government industrial build-up to insure that a lot of it happened in the south.

Newt himself is of course an interesting example of how things have changed. Seventeen people were Speaker of the House in the 20th Century. Exactly four of them represented districts in states different from the state they were born in: Joe Cannon and Sam Rayburn were born in the Appalachian south (North Carolina and Tennessee, respectively) and as small boys moved with their families to the leading edge of the American frontier. So did Champ Clark, but at age 26. After law school he moved from Kentucky to Missouri. Newt Gingrich represents a more modern story: born in Pennsylvania, raised on army bases, and moved to the new south, got a PhD and took a teaching job. This is also a pattern for other southern members today.

Whereas 30 years ago, almost all Southern members represented districts in states where they were born, recently Southern members have become more like those from the rest of the country—some native sons, but many outsiders. Indeed, among the Republicans, the new members of Congress elected in the bumper crop of 1994 were quite likely (12 out of 19) to be from out of state.

In 1965 newly elected Southern Republicans were somewhat more likely than Democrats to be natives of the state they represented. By 1995, owing to the influx of Southern Republicans, the South elected an enormous number of newcomers; and by 1997 the South and the non-South had pretty much converged at a 1.5-2 to 1 ratio of natives to newcomers.

Two recent independent analyses of individual voting in House elections over time help to sustain this story. Both compare the effects of race with the effects of economic factors in producing votes for Republican candidates for the House in the South, and both conclude that the economic rather than the race factor was stronger.

Before the 1960s, in the South, rich and poor alike voted Democratic for the House. But afterward, the rate of decay in the Democratic vote among the well to do began to accelerate.

African Americans, as they entered the southern voting population, voted overwhelmingly Democratic, regardless of their income level. They were 4.1 percent of the Southern electorate in the 1950s, 12.3 percent in the 1960s, 16 percent in the 1970s and 21.8 percent in the 1980s. But whites voted their pocketbooks, and indeed from the 1960s to the 1980s in those districts with large black populations, whites, who also in those districts were likely to be poor, accordingly were less likely to vote Republican.

I suppose there is a mild irony in the fact that it was the arrival in Congress in the 1970s of conservative Republicans that enabled the House of Representatives to move to the left and become a force for liberalism and for mainstream Democratic activism within the political system as a whole. This movement toward liberalism could not have happened until conservative Democrats, principally from the south, disappeared from the Democratic caucus. The disappearance could not have happened without the rise of the Republican party in the southern states. The Republican party could not have arisen without migration from the north: affluent retirees, people attracted to centers of white collar employment, transportation and finance, personnel surrounding military bases. All this demographic growth and change—including the influx of black voters into the Democratic party--helped traditional white conservative southerners resolve their disagreements with the national Democratic party by moving into the ranks of the Republicans.

It makes sense to think that, sooner or later, political parties at the grass roots respond to demographic changes, and that demographic changes respond to changes in patterns of investment and technological capacity. Automobiles, arguably, created suburbs. Skyscrapers (steel skeletons, elevators) arguably, transformed cities. Barbed wire and the railroad changed the west. In the south, so it seems, a comparable technological innovation was air conditioning.

Could economic development have taken place without migration, and migration without air conditioning? I am inclined to doubt it mainly because Republican voting for Congress in the south did not take off immediately after World War II but waited a full decade—between two Eisenhower landslides—to produce its first safe seat, and then there was only one. Were there other causes of southern economic development beside air conditioning? Undoubtedly, but one wonders whether in the absence of air conditioning they would have been sufficient to draw settlers down from less tropical parts of the United States.


I have one more topic to cover before I stop talking, having to do with consequences of all this for the conduct of business in the House of Representatives. After the dumping of four committee chairmen in 1975 there was a considerable change in the party unity scores of Democratic chairmen, from an average of 56.6% in 1965 to 70.5% in 1980, and with the passage of time, up to 92.7% in 1993. This reflects a significant reduction in the number of southern chairmen, from 13 to 5.

A dozen years after the 1975 blood-letting an important incident took place that threw a sharp light on what was changing in the affairs of the House. Les Aspin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, nearly lost his chairmanship because of complaints about his lack of responsiveness to them from party rank and file on the committee. The issue was raised in the caucus, and Aspin managed after a campaign to hang on to his job. But the signal was unmistakable that the management options available to committee chairmen had been sharply curtailed. The caucus could be used to enforce a party line. The customary cross-party coalitions among senior members that characterized the operations of many of the most successful committees were put in jeopardy.

This had enormous repercussions on the Republican party. The preferred Republican strategy for coexisting with the Democratic majorities in the House over the 40 year period (1954-1994) when the Democrats never relinquished their majority in the House was to cultivate influence over legislative outcomes by focussing on making constructive contributions to committee work, and operating in a go-along, get-along spirit. Once Democratic chairmen were put under pressure by their caucus to withdraw reciprocity from this arrangement, an alternative Republican strategy of opposition, bomb-throwing, received a great boost.

As we all know, Newt Gingrich was the great advocate of the attack strategy. The idea was to seek opportunities to make issues that it was hoped would discredit Democratic management of the House.

A series of incidents, especially during the O’Neill and Wright speakerships, marked the march of this strategy: a contested election for a closely-fought Indiana seat, a mounting drumfire of complaints about excessive Democratic leadership control of floor procedures, the entrapment of Speaker O’Neill into an outburst on the floor that caused his words to be taken down, and of course, the successful campaign to enmesh Speaker Wright in ethics charges that ultimately led to his resignation. On the strengths of the success of his attack strategy, Newt Gingrich was able to capitalize on the fortuitous appointment of House GOP whip Dick Cheney to the Defense Department and vault from the back benches to the number two slot in the leadership of the Republican party in the House.

There is more, of course: the faux scandal of the House bank, puffed up all out of proportion to contribute to the Republican strategy of discrediting the House, the elections of 1992 and especially the Democratic wipe-out of 1994 that appeared to vindicate the strategy, the so-called revolution in House management when Republicans took over, that may or may not last very long, depending on how the next few elections go, and so on.

When, after the election of 1994, the Republicans got their chance to manage the house, the tools for centralized leadership by the Speaker had already been put in place by the Democrats. House Republicans tend to follow relatively centralized and hierarchical management practices, dominated by the large state delegations and ranking committee members as befits a more ideologically homogeneous party. They deal with internal dissatisfactions by overthrowing their leaders on a fairly regular basis. Indeed, of the last six Republican leaders of the House, only Gerald Ford, who escaped to the Vice Presidency, did not depart the leadership one step ahead of a Republican scalping party. Thus the rearrangements, sometimes quite drastic, in House procedures instigated by the Republican "revolution," when the Republicans at long last elected a majority of members, were consistent with the ways in which the Republican congressional party had done business in the past. But nobody knows over the longer haul whether the Democratic or Republican style of managing committee-subcommittee relations and numerous other differences in House management, will prevail.

As late as thirty years ago, an observer might have said that of all of the institutions of American government, the House of Representatives had been least touched by change since the creation of so many of the institutions of modern America—professions, universities, corporations, and the modern House of Representatives—in the early years of the twentieth century. Somehow, I doubt people will say that now.

Nelson W. Polsby is the Heller Professor of Political Science at the University of California at Berkeley.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine

What's new on AEI

Rebuilding American defense: A speech by Governor Bobby Jindal
image Smelling liberal, thinking conservative
image Stopping Ebola before it turns into a pandemic
image All too many reasons for pessimism about Europe
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 20
  • 21
  • 22
  • 23
  • 24
Monday, October 20, 2014 | 2:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Warfare beneath the waves: The undersea domain in Asia

We welcome you to join us for a panel discussion of the undersea military competition occurring in Asia and what it means for the United States and its allies.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014 | 8:30 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.
AEI Election Watch 2014: What will happen and why it matters

AEI’s Election Watch is back! Please join us for two sessions of the longest-running election program in Washington, DC. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014 | 1:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.
What now for the Common Core?

We welcome you to join us at AEI for a discussion of what’s next for the Common Core.

Thursday, October 23, 2014 | 10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
Brazil’s presidential election: Real challenges, real choices

Please join AEI for a discussion examining each candidate’s platform and prospects for victory and the impact that a possible shift toward free-market policies in Brazil might have on South America as a whole.

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.