Bruce Bartlett, who worked as an assistant to Senator Roger Jepsen of Iowa in 1979 and 1980, and prior to that, to Congressman Jack Kemp, talks about what it’s like to go from the minority to the majority when you don’t think your victory will last:
As Republicans and Democrats absorb the significance of last week’s election results, a few things are starting to become clear. For one thing, Republicans are finally starting to settle into the idea that they are the majority party in this country. They have not thought so since 1932.
I worked in the Senate in 1980, when Republicans won control there for the first time in almost 30 years, and I remember clearly the sense that this was all just temporary. In contrast to the Democrats, who treated Republicans like dirt, the latter were very deferential. They didn’t treat Democrats with the same disdain, because in their hearts they knew it wouldn’t last.
The memory of 1946-48 and 1952-54, the last times that Republicans held either house of Congress, were very much in their minds. Although no one ever said so, I think most Republicans in the Senate thought they would probably lose the majority in 1982. Consequently, they were fearful of alienating the Democrats, whom, they thought, would soon be back in power, lest they be punished as a consequence.
This sort of meek attitude toward one’s oppressors is, sad to say, not uncommon. People who are kidnapped, such as Patty Hearst, have been known to fall in with their kidnappers.
Republicans in Congress had somewhat the same attitude. They were so used to being beaten and abused that they thought this was the normal state of affairs. When they got the majority, some reacted like a caged bird suddenly set free: They simply didn’t know what to do.
Bartlett has some excellent advice for the incoming class of 2003, to avoid those same mistakes.