CONGRESS

June 1, 2005

The most important result of the extinction of the conservative Democrat is that the two parties have become aligned along ideological lines in a way they haven't been for at least 100 years, says Bruce Bartlett, a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis.

The change started in 1913 with the 17th amendment to the Constitution -- which requires senators to be elected by popular vote, rather than the state legislatures.

Senators from the Deep South retained a pre-1913 attitude long afterward:

  • For cultural and historical reasons, the term ?states rights? had real meaning in the states of the Confederacy.
  • Unfortunately, the term became widely viewed as a code word for racism and therefore discredited as a valid constitutional principle.

All of this began to change in 1974, when Democrats won huge majorities in Congress in the wake of Watergate.

  • Flush with power, insurgent liberals decided they didn't need the Southerners any more and they began taking away their chairmanships and treating them with the same disrespect usually reserved for Republicans.
  • This led many conservative Southern Democrats in Congress to switch parties.

The trend accelerated after Georgia Republican Newt Gingrich joined the Republican House leadership. He realized that Southern Democrats had to be defeated if the Republican Party was ever to achieve majority status in Congress. Newt increased the pressure on them in many ways, eventually forcing almost all either to retire or switch parties. It paid off in 1994 when Republicans took control of the House for the first time in 40 years, says Bartlett.

Source: Bruce Bartlett, "Congress," National Center for Policy Analysis, June 1, 2005.

 

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