When I was a kid growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, there were two issues which were debated and usually decided every election: whether or not everyone had a job and whether or not members of our military were getting killed overseas. If either of those things were happening, the party in power was blamed, and the party that was out of power said that they would fix one or both of those problems if they got in and the other guys were thrown out.
And in those days, just about everyone on the ballot was a guy, at least until my friend Gloria Steinem came along.
Oh, and I should be a little more explicit and not just refer to ‘guys’ because they were also White guys, okay?
In 1970, African-Americans comprised 2% of the members of both Houses – now they comprise 11%. Not quite the average of Blacks in the country as a whole (14%) but almost there.
Women are now 25% of the Congressional membership. They still lag well behind men, but in 1970 women held 2% of all Senate and House seats.
Now here’s the real kicker. The chart below breaks down party alignment in both chambers since 1970 – a spread of 52 years.
Note that the Senate has been blue for 32 of 50 years, the House has been blue for 34 of 50 years. Both chambers have become more evenly controlled over the last two decades, with the GOP holding the Senate and House majorities for 12 of 20 years.
Meanwhile, what’s happened over the last 50 years? I’ll tell you what’s happened. The country has become more diverse and more liberal than I would have ever imagined it could become. We’ve had the implementation of the civil rights law which was passed just prior to the 50-year span. We’ve had passage and implementation of not one, but two major government health plans – Medicare/Medicaid and Obamacare. We’ve had workplace protection through OSHA, pension protection through ERISA, consumer protection through the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and environmental protection through the EPA.
Could all these government programs be stronger? Sure. Could these programs be more effective? Of course. But the bottom line is that even though Congress has been controlled for half of the last 50 years by a political party which claims that other than issuing social security checks and designing a new jet fighter, that everything the government does is no good, none of these programs has ever been seriously challenged by the GOP at all.
And by the way, while we’re on the issue of diversity and in case you’ve forgotten, remember how a so-called conservative Supreme Court ruled that a same-sex marriage was just as valid as a mixed-sex marriage anywhere in the United States? I notice how the GOP has been able to pass a law which would take that one back, right?
Yesterday schmuck-o Trump got up in front of his legions of adoring fans and must have mentioned the threats to our country from the ‘radical left’ at least a dozen times, and before he took the stage, Marjorie Taylor Greene mentioned Anthony Fauci and led the crowd in a ‘lock him up!’ chant.
Meanwhile, for all the noise coming from Trump over the past six years about how the country is being ‘destroyed’ by the Democrats and the RINOS, and for all the racist-mongering about how the country has to be ‘taken back,’ and for all the years since 1970 that the GOP has controlled the Congress, the White House, and held a conservative majority on the Supreme Court, notice what’s changed.
What’s changed is a country and a political system and a set of laws that are more liberal, more diverse, and more honest and fairer than anything I believed I would ever see.
In 2005, my wife and I drove across the United States and stopped for a coffee break in Minot, North Dakota, a lovely small town about 20 miles away from the headquarters of the Strategic Air Command. The gourmet bakery where we bought coffee had a poster in the window advertising the upcoming Gay Rights parade.
A gay rights parade in North Dakota in 2005. Get it?