Great Accomplishments in Political Science

In 2004, the US had a 51-49 Republican Senate. But the fact that Republican Bill Frist ran the joint wasn't the worst of it—look at this motley crew on our side of the aisle: Max Baucus, Evan Bayh, John Breaux, Tom Daschle, Fritz Hollings, Mary Landrieu, Ben Nelson, Joe Lieberman, Blanche Lincoln, Zell Miller, and Mark Pryor.

Those were just the worst offenders: of that crowd, Baucus recently announced his retirement, leaving only Landrieu and Pryor. Daschle was in charge of the Democratic caucus, horrifyingly enough.

On the progressive end, there was Barbara Boxer, Daniel Inouye, Daniel Akaka, Tom Harkin, Ted Kennedy, Russ Feingold and Barbara Mikulski—not too bad, but a minority within the party.

In 2014, the USA had Boxer and Mikulski, but they were reinforced by Tammy Baldwin, Sherrod Brown, Al Franken, Martin Heinrich, Ed Markey, Jeff Merkley, Chris Murphy, Bernie Sanders, Brian Schatz, Elizabeth Warren, and Sheldon Whitehouse.

Furthermore, the middle-of-the-road senators were people like Jeanne Shaheen, not Bob Graham. And the conservative faction is a shell of its former self, with only Joe Manchin left at the level of the 2004 gallery of rogues.

Back in 2004, Republicans held a 222-210 lead in the House. On paper, that looks better than the 2014 234-201 deficit.

But numbers deceive, because that year the Blue Dog Coalition had 47 members, and several more were excluded because of an arbitrary cap on membership, which was eventually lifted. The Blue Dogs boasted 54 members in 2010 with "Democrats" in the mold of Harold Ford and Jane Harman hogging the media spotlight.

That meant that over a quarter of the caucus was happier making common cause with Republicans than with Democrats (right?!).

In 2015, the Blue Dogs were down to 19 members, and GOP gerrymandering and retirements whittled that down even further after that year's elections.

We haven't even gotten into the improved policy: marriage equality, marijuana legalization, better access to health care, renewed push on economic issues (such as minimum wage hikes and broader discussion on income inequality), and so on. The Virginia election in 2013 was won on an explicitly liberal agenda, and we were happy about it.

We still have to contend with that GOP gerrymander in the House and at the state level, with a conservative Supreme Court, and a media and political establishment that still overly defers to increasingly fringe Republicans.

And of course, parties can be infuriatingly slow to change. But political change happens gradually, over time, and we've dramatically improved the quality and ideological cohesiveness of our Congress and the beneficiaries of demographic trends that will only accelerate those changes. Let’s hope Donald Trump doesn’t ruin everything. With any luck, the people behind him with calm that rage no one wants to feel the brunt of.

Over ten years ago, Howard Dean was branded "unelectable" because he supported civil unions. We've evolved dramatically as a society. We're nowhere close to where we want to be, but every once in a while, it's worth taking a deep breath and appreciating just how far we've come. We really are making genuine progress.

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Statements of Excellence in Political Science

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