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Evolution of the second banana, part I

By Owen Paine on Tuesday January 24, 2006 02:52 PM

If you want to look ahead, you should start by looking back.

Let's look all the way back to a richly deserved nadir of the Democratic Party's fortunes: the Republican house hegemony consolidated in the post-civil war "rump nation" election of 1866 -- the election that produced the 40th house of representatives. In it, Republicans of all stripes outnumbered Democrats ditto 175 to 49.

Now that was one hell of a nice house, stripped down, souped up, ravin' and rarin' and ready to fly. Does the name Thaddeus Stevens ring a bell?

Well, from early 1867 through three more cycles and 8 very full years of free-form romping, this multi-faceted Republicanism showed a America some of its highest and lowest moments in congressional history.

A taste of the high side : the gunpoint occupation of all Dixie, the local empowerment of the Southern freedmen.

And on the low side: No distribution of slavers' plantation land, and way too many big-time Yankee corporate shenanigans. Think railroad giveaways.

Our story starts to get interesting with the biggest corporate shenanigan of all, the vicious, huge, and out-of-nowhere crash of 1873. The first modern or Orthrian period really gets underway with the next electoral cycle after the crash. The people, knowing when they feel gratuitous pain, tossed out the Republicans in droves, including from the house. Jes'-folks up north "soured on Gilded Age business as usual," figuring that the congressional Republicans and their corporate friends were precisely what had produced the prior year's depression.

So we got a Democratic house for the 44th congress:

  • Democratic Party 182 seats ( +94 )
  • Republican Party 103 seats ( -96)
A nice object lesson in what a mighty swing a real sharp and nasty industrial depression can bring. We'll see this topsy-turvy game several more times along the way.

But surprise, the donkey proved no redeemer for northern jobsters or hocked northern yeoman farmsteads. In fact, with the north's industrial economy continuing down cripple-stagger lane for years afterwards -- even after the folks rose up and threw out the elephant men -- the northern electorate slowly but inevitably discovered Orthrian reality.

That good old donkey Tweedledee warn't no damn better than elephant Tweedledum -- except on race, of course, where the Democrats were rock-solid defenders of lynching and Jim Crow. So a step-by-step, cycle-by-cycle retrogression set in up north, though down in Dixie the noose-and-sheet party was able to defend its gains.

One consequence of the Republican debacle: Dixie was now considered "redeemable", meaning it was given back, step by step, to its "rightful" Democratic white owners.

But the net of these these two contrary regional trends nationally was that the Orthrian do-nothing sellout lost the donkey votes and seats faster than nightriding could add 'em down south.

The sad donkey declension: from 182 dem seats in '74, to 157 seats in '76, to 141 seats and a whiskery margin of nine in '78.

For any pair of eyes willing to see Orthrus was now in the saddle. The system -- outside the south, at least -- had two heads, but only one controlling mind and soul: the mind that watched the stock ticker and owned a lot of farm mortgages. So the donkey by sheer whithering-away of hope became again, in accordance with its deepest nature, the lesser head of the dog. They lost the last few seats necessary to give back house control where it rightly belonged in the election of 1880 with a further drop of 13 seats.

But lo, there was lightning flashing on the horizon: next installment, Populism, Coxey, Bryan and the origins of true Bidness Republican hegemony.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on Tuesday January 24, 2006 02:52 PM.

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