Reading Robert Kaiser's nostalgia spasm about the good old days when there were nice people in Congress, I think it is time for the political equivalent of a bitch slap. Okay, maybe Everett Dirksen was a warm-hearted boodler; he was still a boodler. And if he is the best you can offer ...
But does Kaiser remember-- no, actually, I guess he doesn't remember--the 80th Congress, the Do-Nothing Congress, the Congress that made it their business that Harry S Truman accomplished nothing, nothing, in what they confidently assumed would be the sunset of his incumbency?
Wiki has the list. If I count right, only four of the top 25 (in seniority) were Republicans but that's a distraction: most of the Democrats in the top 25 were the guys who would have been Republicans today: gentleman racists like Walter F. George and Richard Russell of Georgia, self-promoting lightweights like Tom Connally of Texas and genuinely rotten human beings like Pat McCarren of Nevada (said to be the last person in the senate who could castrate a sheep with his teeth--top that, Ted Cruz) (It's always seemed to me that McCarren did more long-term damage than his colleague Joe McCarthy because McCarren was more disciplined and purposeful, not to say more often sober). Or Theodore Bilbo of Mississippi, perhaps the most grotesquely racist of them all, against tough competition. And speaking of McCarthy, at seniority #25 we get New Hampshire's Styles Bridges, a McCarthy defender-apologist who presided over the Party of Chiang Kai-Shek. It was Bridges (along with Idaho's Herman Welker) who blackmailed a colleague to suicide by threatening to expose gay son (yes, Welker didn't show up until 1951, but close enough). Further down the list we get Owen Brewster, who mastered the stupid politician trick of building a Maine political career on support from the Ku Klux Klan. Press on down and you come to Homer Capehart, the father of the juke box industry, along with his benchmate, William Jenner, who gave isolationism a new meaning.
Oh, I could go on. Captious readers will say I've stacked the deck. Probably so. I skipped over Ralph Flanders, Wayne Morse, John Sherman Cooper. I also skipped over others whose record is more equivocal: people like Robert A. Taft who gained a reputation as the thinking man's conservative, giving cover and support to the worst lizards on the rock. Still, I think there is plenty enough evidence to remind us that this is another one of those cases where you want to be careful what you wish for. And evidence for the glum truth that maybe we aren't "in decline" after all--rather, we always were this way.