Dialectical Materialism and the United States Congress
“The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.” — Alexis de Tocqueville
“Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but excuse me, I repeat myself.” — Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain)
“You can lead a man to Congress, but you can’t make him think.” — Milton Berle
What are the major theories of how the United States Congress is organized and operates? What is the Textbook Congress? Has the way Congress is organized changed over time, and if so, why? Has the way it operates changed also? Why? What are the major criticisms of the theories of Congressional operation and organization? Is there a way to synthesize all of the major theories of congressional organization and operation into a single much more comprehensive theory of how the institution operates and is organized? These questions can, and most definitely, must be answered. For, the general citizenry of the United States has a right and obligation to properly understand how their government is organized and operates. The people’s lack of understanding of how their government functions is what has brought this nation the where it is now. This needs to be reconciled, and while I do not consider myself to be the foremost authority on the subject, I still find myself obligated to do my part to help reverse the trends that have developed in this country as of late. We are living in a police state. Racism, bigotry, and intolerance are rearing their vile heads, and our government has been bought and paid for by the highest bidders. To this end, I am going answer the questions I have posited here. Admittedly, though I believe that the scholars exploring this issue have somewhat intentionally avoided the ultimate answer to the questions they have asked on this topic, I am going to explore how they attempted to answer these questions. The ultimate goal will be to put before you, the people, a concept that intentionally confronts the ultimate answer to these questions. It will show that Congress, just like the rest of us, is subject to the conditions of the time in which it exits. This, by no means, suggests that they can waive their responsibility for their actions. What it does mean, though, is that members of Congress are not any more special than we are. They too, answer to the supreme arbiter of all the world, time. The theoretical concept that I believe has the power do to do this is, none other than, Dialectical Materialism.
The Accepted Theories
The first theory of Congressional organization and operation that should be reviewed is the Mayhew-Electoral Connection Theory. Published in the form of a book in 1974, Congress: The Electoral Connection, Mayhew’s model rests on the assumption that all members of Congress are single minded seekers of reelection. In his era of congressional politics, the turnover rate among members of the House of Representatives had dropped dramatically over time. He references this increasingly low turnover rate as evidence that representatives were in the process of completing the transition to full time politicians interested solely in advancing their political careers. Mayhew also argues that for these representatives, it is the goal to be reelected that must be met before any other goal, such as the passage of significant legislation, can be achieved. In this theory he makes several points. He compares the British Parliament to the United States Congress, where he states that MPs tend to be much more representative of their party; whereas, Congressman tend to be much more individualized. MPs are much more likely to ‘toe the party line’ than Congressman are because Congressman have a geographic constituency to answer to. This can lead to political parties in Congress that are split amongst themselves, let alone, split between Republicans and Democrats. Essentially, a Republican from Massachusetts may not line up very well with a Republican from Mississippi because their districts demand different actions of them. Further, he points out that everything Congressmen do once they have actually been elected, from their voting record to the bills that they choose to support or not to support, is motivated by the same primary goal, reelection.
The next theory to consider is the Fenno-Election, Power, Policy Theory. Fenno’s main question is, “How does an elected representative’s view of their constituency affect their political behavior?” He outlines this theory in his book, Home Style: House Members in their Districts. He first identifies what an MC’s main goals are. He states that they are reelection, power in Congress, and formulation of good public policy. The first goal is the most important because it makes the other two goals possible. He argues that MCs, his abbreviation, adopt what he calls a ‘Homestyle’ approach to their actions and behavior, using their committee assignments for assistance. This is the approach, he argues, which is most likely to get them reelected. He also argues that all other pursuits are geared towards this end. He also identifies the four main constituencies that a MC must account for. He contends that first, they have their geographic constituency, or their congressional district. Second, hey have their electoral supporters, or those people who are those that are most likely to vote for them. Third, they have their primary supporters, or those people who are most likely to do work for them; and finally, they have their Intimates, or the MC’s immediate family, close friends, and most trusted advisers.
The next theory to consider is Rational Choice Theory. The basic premise of this theory is that aggregate social behavior results from the behavior of individual actors, each of whom is making their individual decisions. It also says that the individual is a rational being, who will make rational decisions that most benefit their personal welfare. The theory, therefore, focuses on the determinants of those individual’s choices. As it relates to Congress and politics in general, the theory seeks to find the individual determinants of Congressmen’s behaviors to explain why they vote the way they do and why they take any number of actions which, at times, may seem to be completely contradictory to the good of those for whom they have been elected to represent. This theory assumes that when engaging in the policy formation process, members of congress will be considering all options available to them equally. It also assumes that any decision made based on these options will be the option most likely to do the most good for the most people. Essentially, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. Lina Eriksson goes into depth on the subject in her recent text, Rational Choice Theory: Potential and Limits.
The next theory to consider is the Distributional Theory. The Distributional Theory suggests that Congress’ bills evolve over the drafting process to become more broad and reaching with their benefits. It further contends that legislation that follows this theory has benefits that flow to many districts and can come in many forms. In the present day, it argues, these benefits usually come in the form of ‘pork barrel’ appropriations that are meant to benefit an individual Congressman’s district. This theory can be tied with universalism, disaggregation, and what is known as Omnibus Legislation. This basically means that a bill must be able to broken down into separate parts, so that multiple districts, across broad areas, can benefit from the legislation. It is also one of the main ways in which controversial bills can get wide ranging support for passage in Congress. This tendency of legislation to spread out the benefits, normally financial, is what is referred to as this omnibus legislation. One of the flaws of this theory is that it does not account for why congressmen lose their seats in general elections, despite the fact that their actions continue to benefit their districts long after they have been removed from office. This is the theory that can most be related to what is called the ‘Textbook Congress,’ which saw its glory days in the middle of the twentieth century. This will be discussed shortly. Barry R. Weingast reflects on this theory in his piece, “Reflections on Distributive Politics and Universalism,” in the 1994 edition of Political Research Quarterly.
The next theory to be reviewed is the Informational Theory. In this theory, it is argued that congressmen are looking for the best information they can find on a topic, so that they can make the best decision on an issue as is possible. It is additionally argued that they line up experts that support their information, so that their actions and policy initiatives will have broader support in their constituent district. It further assumes that they are doing their best to appeal to the median voter in their district, so that people on more extreme sides of an issue can be brought along, once they have been sufficiently educated on the given issue. The basis of the theory was presented by Keith Krehbiel in his book, Information and Legislative Organization. He presents the idea that rather than seeking to consciously benefit a broad range of people with their legislative initiatives; which is the image they try to sell; congressmen have a much more individualist need that motivates their actions. This, ultimately, is what leads to broader benefits for society as the congressmen make more highly informed decisions based on quality information and the judgment of technical experts.
The final theory to be reviewed is the Party Cartel Theory. This theory was put forth by Garry W. Cox and Matthew D. McCubbins in their book, Setting the Agenda: Responsible Party Government in the US House of Representatives. They argue that legislative parties are best compared to legal or accountancy partnerships, with various ranks and positions being doled out to junior and senior partners. They specialize in controlling the agenda, rather than in controlling votes. That is, they seek to determine what is voted on to begin with, in order to lessen the pressure on determining how their members’ votes will be cast. They argue that this gives the entire party an interest in controlling the agenda, so as not to give away any ground to their opposition. They argue that a party system is cartelized when the power to set the agenda is granted to specific offices like committee chairmen, the speakership, and the like, when most of these positions are granted to the majority party, and when leaders refuse to put bills on the floor that they know will not garner the support of their members. This system removes individual representative’s ability to take actions in the name of their local constituencies with any ease. In fact, if they attempt to do so, and their position opposes the party line, they could find the rest of their tenure in the House both boring and undistinguished, which could cost them their jobs.
The Textbook (Southern) Congress and Change
Now, to the Textbook Congress. This refers to the period from the late 1940s to the mid to late 1960s, in which the power in Congress was most highly concentrated in the committees and their chairmen, with the Speaker of the House being a relatively weak position. The committee chairmen controlled the agenda and committee assignments, which were all based, largely, on seniority. This created a system in which power, policy, and position were controlled by the eldest of the party leaders, and in which, new members found their ability to do what they came to do stifled if their agenda did not match that of the majority party, which during this period was a Democratic Party dominated by Southerners. This system was particularly obstructive to the goals and initiatives of congressman elected from northern states, who had a very different outlook on how the party should operate and which legislation should be considered by Congress. A lot of work was accomplished during this period, but it was fairly one sided and was, ultimately, doomed to failure because of how difficult this system it made it for individuals to press their own agendas when they were in conflict with leadership.
This did change over time, however. The 1970s was a period of reform, in which committees slowly lost power to their sub-committees and where distribution of position, power, and the ability to control the agenda was largely removed from the hands of Congress’ most senior members. This was a period of congressional history where committee and congressional staffers began to take on much more important roles, as the need for accurate and detailed information resources grew dramatically. This was made possible by a resolution that allowed sub-committee members to dip into committee funds to hire staffers that could do most of the research and logistical work for them. During this period, the power of committees was also challenged by the rising power of the Speaker of the House, and the increased role in legislative affairs taken on by the Democratic Caucus. It is possible that a new Textbook Congress is beginning to develop as power continues to be centralized within the present party leadership of Congress, more specifically, the Republican party. This is a process that has been in motion since the middle of the 1970s with the ascension of men like Newt Gingrich and others like him. Kenneth A. Shepsle alludes to this in his article, “The Changing Textbook Congress,” in the book Can the Government Govern?, edited by John E. Chubb and Paul E. Peterson. It would seem that Shepsle’s prediction has begun to reach a state of reality in relation to the Party Cartel Theory and the Republican Party’s domination of Congress for the past ten plus years.
In a fairly recent publication, How Congress Evolves: Social Bases of Institutional Change, Nelson W. Polsby argues that most of the changes in congressional organization, distribution, and behavior can be more accurately attributed to changes in the social and technological climates in the United States over the past century or so. He argues that since Sam Rayburn was Speaker of the House, the Civil Rights Movement and other similar social developments have changed the way congressmen are able to operate. The most interesting thing that Polsby points out is the effect that the invention of the air conditioner had on American politics. It made the South more livable, so many old conservatives from the North found their way down to the South. This says a lot about how the physical make up of congress has changed over time and how the organization and operation of Congress has been affected by those changes. It is a good start towards the formulation of a broader theory of congressional operation and organization that can definitely be built upon in the future. It, however, is not all there is to be considered.
From the 1910 overthrow of “Czar” Joseph Cannon to the reforms enacted when Republicans took over the House in 1995, institutional change within the U.S. Congress has been both a product and a shaper of congressional politics. For several decades, scholars have explained this process in terms of a particular collective interest shared by members, be it partisanship, reelection worries, or policy motivations. Eric Schickler makes the case in Disjointed Pluralism: Institutional Innovation and The Development of the U.S. Congress, however that it is actually an interplay among multiple interests that determines institutional change. There is no one single circumstance, condition, or behavior that can be considered to be the sole motivation for change in congressional organization and operation. Multiple factors must be considered, including political parties, chamber-centered interests, individual power bases, policy interests, and reelection interests, among others. In the process, he explains how, over time, despite constant change, congressional institutions have proved remarkably adaptable and yet consistently frustrating for members and outside observers alike.
In a sense, one could get fairly frustrated at the perceived fact that the more Congress changes, the more it tends to remain the same. Looking at Congress from a historical perspective shows this. From Joseph Cannon, to the ‘Textbook Congress’ of the post-World War II U.S political climate, to the present obstructionism of the Republican dominated legislature, which is supposedly explained by the Party Cartel theory, Congress always tends to be dominated by one party or another with little effort made to actively engage in cooperative efforts with the opposition party. Further, none of the present theories have successfully explained this, despite each of them claiming to be the only correct explanation of congress, and there is much criticism to support this claim. Understanding these criticisms will help in the production of a new model that better accounts for the historical circumstances that have led to shifts in congressional operation and organization. This will also assist in the application of Dialectical Material to the changes in congressional organization and operation that have occurred over time.
The Theoretical Criticism
Beginning with Mayhew’s theory, Christopher J. Deering and Steven Smith argue in Committees in Congress that Mayhew’s goal of careerism is too broad and fails to account for the many other goals that make up the goal of keeping one’s job. Arthur Mass in, Congress and the Common Good, argues that the theory dismisses the need to produce quality legislation too quickly. Donald A. Gross and James C. Garand in, “Changes in the Vote Margins for Congressional Candidates: A Specification of Historical Trends,” in the American Political Science Review, argue that the trend of an increased number of safe seats for incumbents began in the 1890s, predating the widespread existence of conditions and factors associated with an electoral connection in Congress, such as increased amounts of institutional resources and perquisites. In, “The Electoral Connection Meets the Past: Lessons from Congressional History, 1789–1899,” in the Political Science Quarterly, Elaine K. Swift seeks to determine if the theory can stand up to a historical analysis. She looks to assess the behavior of congressman from 1789 to 1899. Drawing an analogy between the modern House and the pre-Jacksonian House allowed her to evaluate Mayhew’s predictions for the future of a legislature driven mainly by the career goals of its members. This evaluation led her to conclude that career goals had little relationship to major features of congressional behavior and organization in the nineteenth century. She conclude that ultimately, the same could be said for the Congress of the twentieth century.
The Fenno-Election, Power, Policy Theory, which focuses on job retention and policy formation through committee assignments is also not without its critics. In, “Congressional Committees as Moving Targets,” in Legislative Studies Quarterly, Roger H. Davidson argues that Fenno, and nearly everyone else who has studied committees, has concluded that committees differ from one another. That is true enough, descriptively speaking. Obviously, committees respond differently to changed conditions, as some are affected more than others by shifts in membership goals or environmental factors. Yet it is legitimate to speak not only of individual committees but of the committee system, as a whole. Some of the forces impinging upon committees are common to all of them, producing shifts in varying degrees. Davidson argues that scholars need to sort out these factors. With the wealth of descriptive material about committees since World War II, including various statistical indicators, scholars can add the dimension of time and change to the remarkable portrait of committees sketched by congressional researchers. In, “The Job of Representation in Congress: Public Expectations and Representative Approval,” in Polity, Grant and Rudolph argue that while job retention and policy do account for a lot of how a congressman represents his constituency and thus, how Congress operates, things like public opinion should be considered more in their own right.
Then, there is, of course, Rational Choice Theory, which has been criticized as being completely unrealistic, and from an empirical sense, completely unviable. Donald P. Greene and Ian Shapiro, in their text, Pathologies of Rational Choice Theory: A Critique of Applications in Political Science, are among the most famous detractors of Rational Choice Theory. They contend that much of the fanfare with which the rational choice approach has been heralded in political science must be seen as premature once the question is asked: What has this literature contributed to our understanding of politics? They do not dispute that theoretical models of immense and increasing sophistication have been produced by practitioners of rational choice theory; but, in their view, the case has yet to be made that these models have advanced the field’s understanding of how politics works in the real world. To date, a large proportion of the theoretical conjectures of rational choice theorists have not been tested empirically. Those tests that have been undertaken have either failed on their own terms or garnered theoretical support for propositions that, on reflection, can only be characterized as banal, in that they do little more than restate existing knowledge in rational choice terminology. In, “On the ‘Rationality’ of Rational Choice,” in Political Psychology, Catherine H. Zuckert backed up Shapiro and Greene when she argued that the theory’s defenders have used analyses of public policy decisions that are cast in terms of the sharp and now largely discredited distinctions that logical positivists drew between facts and values or efficient means and effective ends. Further, their models arouse suspicions and objections concerning the political and psychological effects of the methods they employ and the policy options they endorse.
As regards the Distributional Theory, in, “Balancing Power: Committee System Autonomy and Legislative Organization,” in Legislative Studies Quarterly, Nancy Martorano argues that the theory is fairly clear in its assumptions about rights to committee membership that is, property rights, or seniority, and committee jurisdiction, as well as, its assumption concerning the degree of autonomy that should be afforded to committees in the legislative process. She argues that an empirical analysis does not support the hypothesis that chambers possessing property rights to committee seats and codified committee jurisdictions also possess highly autonomous committee systems. In fact, the statistically significant relationship between the property rights index and the committee system autonomy index reveals that the relationship is just the opposite, property rights to committee seats are associated with lower levels of committee system autonomy. What this states, essentially, is that the Distributional Theory of Congress is misrepresentative of reality. This supports the claim made earlier that the Distributional Theory is much the same as the Party Cartel Theory, just in the political climate of the post-World War II world up to the mid to late 1960s, instead of the middle of the 1990s to the early twenty first century. This will also have significance when formulating a new historical model for the changes in congressional operation and organization over time.
Mirroring the publication of Krehbiel’s, Information and Legislative Organization, Congleton and Sweetser published what they consider to be a refutation of the Informational Theory. According to Krehbiel, increased access to information is supposed to improve Congress’ ability to make good decisions; however, in “Political Deadlocks and Distributional Information: The Value of the Veil,” in Public Choice, Congleton and Sweetser suggest that there are circumstances where erecting a veil of ignorance, that is to say decreasing the pool of distributional information used to enact public policies, would increase the efficiency of current political institutions. They argue that not only would the overhead cost of political deliberations be reduced, but generally, more desirable political outcomes would be obtained. They do not suggest that ignorance is bliss. In fact, they assume throughout their paper that knowledge of the abstract distribution of benefits and costs improves political decision making by reducing uncertainty and allowing a better correspondence between ex ante decisions and ex post outcomes. However, when it comes down to the facts, their analysis suggests that, at least in some cases, knowledge of the precise distribution of the costs and benefits of alternative programs down to the level of specific individuals or groups of individuals tends to reduce the efficacy of political institutions. This may be attributed to professional jealousy over the amount of benefits granted to one person over those granted to another.
Of Party Cartel Theory, it can be said that Cox and McCubbins spent a great deal of time developing their theory before the publication of their book in 2004. This is shown in the back and forth debate that they had in the 1990s with Schickler and Rich, who contend that the Party Cartel Theory is not appropriate for understanding congressional operation and organization. In, “Party Government in the House Reconsidered: A Response to Cox and McCubbins,” in the American Journal of Political Science, they argue that House rules changes disclose two central features of institutional development from the 1920s to the 1970s that undermine claims of party government. First, they argue that major features of House institutions, such as rules concerning committee jurisdictions, were shaped far more by cross party and universalistic coalitions than by party based coalitions; and second, they contend that House rules respond more to changes in the ideological balance of forces on the floor, as it relates to the relative numbers of liberals and conservatives, than they do to changes in the preferences of a majority of the majority party’s members. In 2009, five years after the publication of the defining book, this theory actually got some strong support. In, “Partisan Stacking on Legislative Committees,” in Legislative Studies Quarterly, an empirical study of the forty-nine partisan state legislatures, Hedlund, et al found strong evidence for majority party committee stacking. This is the theory, in combination with the Distributional Theory, which most accurately fits into the concept of Dialectical Materialism, which will be outlined next.
Dialectical Materialism and the United States Congress
As was commented on earlier, from Joseph Cannon, to the ‘Textbook Congress’ of the post-World War II U.S political climate, supposedly explained by the Distributional Theory, to the present obstructionism of the Republican dominated legislature, which is supposedly explained by the Party Cartel Theory, Congress, though it appears that one era caused the other, always tends to be dominated by one party or another with little effort made to actively engage in cooperative efforts with the opposition party. Further, none of the present theories have successfully explained this in full. As has been noted, Nelson W. Polsby argues that most of the changes in congressional organization, distribution, and behavior can be attributed to changes in the social and technological climates in the United States over the past century or so. He points out that things like the Civil Rights Movement and air conditioning have had more effect on Congress than they been given credit for. Further, Eric Schickler argues that it is actually an interplay among multiple interests that determines institutional change. There is no one single circumstance, condition, or behavior that can be considered to be the sole motivation for change in congressional organization and operation. Multiple factors must be considered, including political parties, chamber-centered interests, individual power bases, policy interests, and reelection interests, among others.
So, out of this comes three assumptions about congressional organization and operation. First, nothing ever remains the same. The institution and the people in it, alike, change over time. Second, Congress is not immune to the social, political, and even, technological developments of the world in which it exists. Essentially, Congress is responsive to all new developments outside the chamber. Third, and finally, no one operational factor, by itself, can explain how Congress behaves. All of the varying factors must be considered together when attempting to make any determination. One might attempt to formulate a new theory out of these assumptions, but the effort would be unnecessary, as this is quite clearly a case for Dialectical Materialism. According to Thomas Paul, Marxism and Scientific Socialism: From Engels to Althusser, the main idea of Dialectical Materialism lies in the concept that the natural world is in a continuous state of evolution and that new qualities of being emerge as environmental conditions change. Basically, everyone and everything in this world is subject to the conditions of the environment in which they exist. This accounts for, as it relates to Congress, change over time, unpredictable social and technological conditions, and varying motivations for behavior. this is, admittedly, only a beginning. More research is definitely needed on this topic, especially empirical studies, to determine statistically how effective Dialectical Materialism can actually be in accounting for the broad set of conditions for congressional organization and operation that are briefly outlined here. There also needs to be work done on the clarification of terminology and the development of appropriate classifications, within Dialectical Materialism, for each era in Congress’ long history. The future does look promising, however.
Moving forward, it is good to note that this is not the first time in a scholarly setting that Dialectical Materialism has been mentioned in the same context as governmental organization and operation. In, “Marxism and Systems Theory in Bureaucratic Society,” in Social Research, Peter C. Ludz speaks on the topic in relation to the bureaucracy of the East German communist regime. In, “Dialectical Materialism and Geography,” in Area, M. D. Day and J. M. Wagstaff speak on the subject in relation to the administration of a geographically diverse state, using Great Britain as a model. In, “Dialectical Materialism and the MIR,” in the Berkeley Journal of Sociology, Norman Levine speaks on the subject in relation to the old Russian MIRs, an ancient rural communal arrangement established for safety against raids from the Steppe, as well as, effective local self governance. None of these reference the application of the theory to the United States, but they do show how Dialectical Materialism can be applied to the study of government entities. More locally, in Dialectical Urbanism: Social Struggles in the Capitalist City, Andy Merrifield discusses the concept in relation to the stress of urban life in both Great Britain and the United States. The most promising application of Dialectical Materialism to US institutions, however, is presented by J. Kenneth Benson. In, “Organizations: A Dialectical View,” in the Administrative Science Quarterly, he focuses on such phenomena as alternative power structures, strategic contingencies, political economy, negotiated order, and cooperative mechanisms; among others, where he shows how the concept can be introduced into corporate America, with the goal of vastly improving efficiency and dramatically reducing wasted work hours. There is very little doubt that this could be more thoroughly applied to the study of the operation and organization of the United States Congress.
So, in brief, how would Dialectical Materialism begin to explain the United States Congress over time? Understanding, again that Dialectical Materialism basically means that all people are subject to the material conditions of their physical existence, the story should now flow quite smoothly rather than fumbling about like it has for the past forty years or so. The US Constitution took effect on March 4, 1789. From this date, until the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, by far the most powerful issue at hand was slavery. The Northern states wanted it abolished, and the Southern states wanted it to expand. So, Congress would have, to a degree, been organized around this issue. Also tied up in the politics of this era, however, was the debate between Federalism and States’ Rights. This also had an effect on how Congress behaved, as it explains why there were ties between Congressmen in the North and the South that crossed the battle lines drawn over slavery. Business interests also tell a part of this story. Northern factories relied, heavily, on Southern cotton. This may go a long way in explaining why it took Northern congressmen so long to fully commit to abolishing slavery. After the Civil War, with slavery no long an issue around which Congress could organize, things changed up a little. Now, Congress began to organize around the conditions set by the Industrial Revolution. The conditions were labor versus industry. Either you supported the cause of the working class or you supported the rich men that employed them. The era was also marked by increased activism by women fighting for their right vote and to enact temperance legislation, both of which, were achieved right around the same time, at the turn of the 1920s. The silent issue of the period, which is now referred as the Progressive Era, was Jim Crow. Northern Congressmen would have been silent on this issue because the policies, which were passed by northern states as well as southern, provided more job opportunities for white men. Congress’ behavior in this period would also have been affected by the nation’s slow advance into global prominence, as its military power began to expand.
Post World War I, the nation and Congress both had a strong desire in them to avoid the hell of the ‘War to End all Wars,’ at all costs. This created a Congress that was extremely isolationist and less willing to confront things like the ominous the rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany. The high crime rate of the 1920s and early 1930s was also an issue. This led to Congress granting the federal government more policing powers. They gave the FBI the power to arrest people and carry firearms during this period. There is also, of course, the most predominating factor of the period, the Great Depression. They also repealed the Prohibition Amendment. The American Welfare State was born during the depression years, as Congress gave Franklin Delano Roosevelt near dictatorial powers to solve the problem. This was also a period of technological innovation. As has been mentioned before, the air conditioner, in this case the invention of Central Air, changed the way Congress was organized in a big way. The traditional North and South alignment was subsequently affected, and over time, the South became what it is today a Republican stronghold. The Democrats, of course, took a hold of the North. Jim Crow and labor disputes were also important parts of the era, as they had not gone away. Post World War II, labor issues calmed down for a while, but the Civil Rights Movement went into overdrive. The Democratic Party, not yet out of the South, was split on the issue, and it took strong arming, from President Lyndon Baines Johnson, for Congress to react with the landmark legislation that now defines the Civil Rights Movement and his Great Society. The space race against the Russians also played a role in how Congress passed out funding. Then, there was, of course, the Vietnam War, which through the Depression and World War II generation for a loop and helped set the stage for the violent rebellions of the 1970s. This period was also set by economics crises that threatened to break down the American economy, and which, beginning in the early 1980s, set Congress on a slow path to dismantling the pro labor legislation that had made the 1950s as prosperous as they had been. This period also saw a rapid rise in suburban culture, as white people fled the inner cities. This affected the organization of Congress dramatically.
The 1980s also witnessed the height of the Cold War between the United States and Russia. The military build up on both sides was both over dramatic and unnecessary, but that did not stop Congress from helping Ronald Reagan to build up the US military arsenal up to strengths greater than had existed at the height of World War II. This was also the period when most of the liberty movements, like the Feminist Movement and the LGBT cause, moved into the courtroom and left the violent demonstrations of the sixties and seventies behind. Subsequently, those movements made some important gains. Environmental issues also began to take the front page of major publications. From the late 1980s, moving into the early 1990s, the crime rate became an issue again. Congress responded by cracking down on crime, rather than addressing the real issues of poverty, drug addiction, and police corruption, a sign that racism had not left the minds of many Southern congressmen, who were in strong support of such bills. Free Trade was also a major theme of the day. Congress, behind the leadership of Bill Clinton, and Newt Gingrich, though he was rabidly partisan, passed legislation that instead of directly confronting the demands of the Labor Movement, simply took their jobs away from them and moved them overseas. This was also the period when those companies who did not leave the country found new homes. They moved to the South, where Right to Work laws gave them the ability to cut labor costs and avoid union problems. The 2000 elections set the tone for the beginning of the twenty-first century, and not even a year later, Congress would again sell itself away. After the 9/11 Attacks, Congress gave George W. Bush near dictatorial powers, and when he expanded the war from Afghanistan to Iraq, they did not challenge him, even though they knew his evidence for war a war in Iraq was full of inconsistencies. They were afraid of the political repercussions. By the time the war in Iraq went sour, Congress was beginning to turn on Bush, to the point that even his own party was distancing itself from him, as they fought to keep their seats in the 2008 election. Many of them failed.
As a result, the 2008 election brought about a complete shift in power in the national government. The Democratic Party took both the White House and the House of Representatives, and for the first time in this nation’s history, an African American was elected President of the United States. Congress, now run by Democrats, passed a multitude of bills into law, the most famous of which was the Affordable Care Act. In 2010, however, the Republicans retook the House, and immediately set about forming a doctrine whose sole purpose was to obstruct President Barack Obama. They did not do so because he is a Democrat. They did so because he is an African American. Most of the Republican Party, now, is from the Old South. This is not a coincidence. They have spent six years knocking down as much of his work as they can. Bills designed to create jobs, bills meant to help the clean up the environment, and bills designed to clean up policing have died in the Republican Congress, for no other reason than they were supported by Barrack Obama, who many still accuse of being a Muslim of Non-US birth. They have also continuously attempted to undo accomplishments from his first two years. They have been so obstructionist that it is the United States Supreme Court that has had to the business of the making law, as of late. Something they had to do in the 1950s, as well. Then, they struck down Segregation, and now, they have struck down marriage inequality. Even worse than this, Congress’ obstructionism, in the hands of the Republican Party, over the past six years, has created a vile anomaly, Donald Trump, and now many of them are handing their endorsements over to him just to save their jobs. Their constituents look at Trump like he is the White Messiah, come to save them from the Black Devil. However, even this, was created by conditions outside Congress. Race, crime, oppression, violence, poverty, discrimination, and many other issues, are at their boiling point. While Congress has spent the past twenty plus years, no matter the controlling party, pandering to the wealthy elite of this country, the remainder of the general citizenry has watched as everything that they thought their country was has fallen apart. Funding cut after funding cut has reduced former staples of the American experience to memories, while working class people get poorer and the rich hoard more and more wealth behind their private security fences. This is not a matter of party affiliation, or committee assignments. This is a matter of social circumstances. Congress is answering to the people that got them their jobs, not the people, for whom they have supposedly been elected to serve. This is Dialectical Materialism.