The “Do Nothing” Senate

The 80th United States Congress met during the third and fourth years of Harry Truman’s presidency, from 1947-49. Republicans had a majority in both chambers. Truman famously nicknamed it the “Do Nothing Congress” and, during the 1948 election, campaigned as much against that “do nothing” body as he did against Dewey–and the strategy worked. Truman won, and the GOP lost nine seats in the Senate and 73 seats in the House.

Ironically, next to the sorry lot “serving” in today’s Senate, the 80th actually looks pretty good. It passed a  total of 906 bills, including the Marshall Plan and the Taft–Hartley Act. It had, however, opposed most of Truman’s Fair Deal bills, and he was able to turn that opposition into electoral victory.

Fast forward to 2021. As a newsletter from the New York Times noted,

When Republicans controlled the White House and Congress in 2017 and 2018, the only major legislation they passed was a tax cut, and the only other big bill that came close was a repeal of Obamacare, without a replacement.

When Donald Trump ran for re-election, the party did not write a campaign platform.
During Barack Obama’s presidency, and now Biden’s, Republicans have almost uniformly opposed significant legislation, be it on health care, climate change, Wall Street regulation or economic stimulus.

As President Biden has pointed out, his proposed legislation has broad bipartisan support–among voters. It’s only among members of our genuinely “do nothing” Congress that it has encountered intransigent opposition.

Admittedly, the GOP is far from a “do nothing” party at the state and local level–and what the party is doing there makes it more accurately the “do nothing good” party. State-level GOP lawmakers have engaged in multiple, unprecedented attacks on the right to vote, filing more than 360 bills to restrict voting–everything from proposals to make mail-in voting harder, to  turning minor voting errors into criminal offenses. According to one report, Michigan is even trying to stop the state’s top election official from providing a link to an absentee ballot application on a state government website.

If the United States was experiencing a period of widespread prosperity and tranquillity, a pause in legislative activity might be justifiable. There is no virtue in passing laws simply to look busy. But that is hardly the case. Substantial majorities of Americans–in both parties–identify pressing issues. Their priorities may differ, and they are proposing very different “fixes” for the issues they agree upon, but virtually all Americans believe that Congress needs to negotiate in good faith, compromise where possible, and act.

The reason for GOP intransigence is simple: for several years, Republicans in Congress have elevated party over nation. A Politico article from 2016 included a quote by former GOP Senator Voinovich that has been widely reported.It pretty much tells the tale.

Starting in 2009, the Republicans in Congress adopted a simple, coherent strategy of resisting anything Obama proposed. “If he was for it,” said former Ohio Senator George Voinovich, “we had to be against it.” No Republican senators and no House Republicans voted for the Affordable Care Act. After 2012, with healthy majorities, Republicans voted to repeal the law dozens of times, with no hope that such moves would have any effect other than to register opposition. The near debt default in 2011 to the Ted Cruz-led shutdown in 2013 to the current refusal to hold hearings for the Supreme Court seat vacated by Antonin Scalia’s death have continued that trend.

Today’s GOP is so radicalized, and its voters so misinformed (polls find that some two-thirds of self-identified Republicans think Trump won the election, despite a total lack of any credible evidence) that a Biden campaign modeled after Truman’s probably wouldn’t resonate. But it might be worth a try.

History–assuming America gets to have a history–will not be kind to the venal and self-interested poseurs occupying the halls of Congress. As Jennifer Rubin recently wrote in the Washington Post,

The Republican Party is descending into know-nothingism and nativism because of the silence of Republicans who know better. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) knows that November’s election was not fraudulent and that the disgraced former president incited the Jan. 6 insurrection. McCarthy is simply too cowardly to say so. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) knows this, too; he just is too craven and ambitious to admit it. Instead of working on the country’s problems, he spends his time lashing out at Major League Baseball for opposing voter restrictions.

These pathetic excuses for public servants make the members of Truman’s “do nothing” Congress look like towering statesmen by comparison.


  1. Republicans in Congress have elevated party over nation in order to please
    the ‘one percent’ who pay their campaign expenses. Who knew!!

  2. Tom is correct. Corporate/banking America owns the Republican party and they like sending their profits overseas to avoid taxes very much. It’s all about greed and money, money and greed. The people be damned.

    Why else do you suppose the 1% has invested so heavily on disinformation platforms like Fox News, NewsMax and all the rest? Not only do these platforms feed the Russian intelligence arm of the Republican party, but continue to dupe the mindless fools who vote for them.

    I think we are in a (relatively) quiet civil war right now. But as with all wars, the goobers with guns want to kill to assert their, uh… stupidity. It’s been the Republican way since 1981 when the second worst President in our history was thrust upon the world to destroy the middle classes.

  3. I believe Albert Einstein would have loved to share some tips with Harry had he been invited to the White House. You have to look past the ability of the politicians to fool the public into thinking they are interested in the public good. Politicians have always been focused on the needs of the oligarchy.

    However, this becomes never more apparent with the ushering in of Neoliberalism under Reagan and Thatcher. All the progress made to the 80s was wiped out and went into reverse. The spoiled rich kids got their way, and the war against workers began. Racism has always been used to divide up the working class.

    Mainly due to the decline of media, the role of the politician has been more corruptible. They don’t even need to put on the facade of being “statesmen” because the media outlets give a place where each targeted segment audience can be reached.

    Trump was classic because he was a horrible actor and had to answer questions from the whole phony spectrum; any tough question caused him to clamor “fake news.” That was his defense for any question that wasn’t a loaded softball question from a friendly media source. That’s why we get this alternate universe. It’s why I don’t waste my time watching any of it. It’s all scripted for their targeted audience. If these journalists asked an earnest question, they would be yanked from the “press pool” immediately. They’ve been screened long before they are given a pass.

    This occurs at the local and state level too. Our legislators in Indy don’t accept difficult questions either. Presidents of universities only use the media people they trust won’t make them look bad.

    It’s all a big con that causes screening out people at all levels a necessity. Look at how Mitch Daniels treated the historian Howard Zinn because he portrayed the truth about our history versus the whitewashed supreme version Daniel’s wanted to be taught in schools. Zinn was censored for telling the truth.

    Americans have been lied to for so long; our unconscious rejects the truth immediately. Denial kicks in, and we shut it down. The truth is uncomfortable, so we watch TV news that reinforces our beliefs.

    If we allowed the truth back into journalism and the media, the American people would freak out over what they are seeing, reading, and hearing.

  4. As terrible as the Republican Party has become,  I am seriously worried that Democrats are going to undermine what may be a one-time opportunity to save democracy as we know it. Despite the idiocy and corruption of the Trump years he continues to command control of the GOP. In typical Democratic fashion, with the narrowest margin of political control, Democrats are falling into their self-made trap of ideological overreach, lack of focus and confusing communications. This shortsightedness gives Republicans all the buzz words and soundbites they need to spread lies and disinformation throughout the electorate. Typically, Democrats try to push too much, too fast, beyond the middle ground of basic, widely accepted support for necessary reforms — the so-called Overton window. Dems! You need a plan; get focused. You don’t have 50 votes for reconciliation or 60 votes for anything else. All these great ideas, but nothing gets done. Democrats need to demonstrate that they can lead the country pragmatically and they must start with securing free and fair voting rights for all Americans now, before it’s too late. The 2022 midterm may be the most important election this country has ever faced. “Voting Rights Plus Everything Else”

  5. J.P. The Democrats are trying to repair things. Not only do they have to fix the mess left from the Trump shit storm, they have to undo what 40 years of the Reagan/Regan influence has had on our economy and body politic.

    From the moment that Reagan/Regan started calling government the problem and taking the idiotic theories of Milton Friedman to their bosom, our national demise, the demise of democracy started rolling toward the finish line: outright fascism with the oligarchs in charge.

    That’s what the Republican party is, and it started very early, say around 1922.

  6. No answers, only concerns. Mitt Romney was booed by Mormons in Salt Lake City. Both Mitt and I were shocked. My job decades ago required me to spend considerable time in Utah. I and others were treated professionally and politely but the very clannish Mormons were not ‘socially friendly’. Their own negative issues as they trekked created a social island that depended on itself for survival. The modern Mormon as I knew them was conservative and well behaved and protective of his own. I have no issues or complaints regarding the Jesus Christ Church of Latter Day Saints. However, turning on their own is a very demeaning and disruptive manner coincides with Todd’s comments. The ‘silent majority’ of Americans must awaken to prevent social disaster in the USA.

    Mitch McConnell rejected the Infrastructure Proposal with a nonsensical alternative designed not to help the country but to prevent retaxation of billionaires yesterday. This denies monies to replace the obsolete and dangerous Brent Spence bridge over the Ohio River in Cincinnati over which both I75 and I71 cross with traffic more than twice as heavy as the bridge design. Constant traffic jambs and accidents are the norm. This directly impacts KY as it’s their bridge. Yet Mitch says no to his constituents who voted about 70% for his re-election. The modern Republican in charge DOES NOT CARE WHAT THE COUNTRY NOR HIS CONSTITUENTS NEED, ONLY OPPOSING WHAT THE DEMOCRATS CORRECTLY HAVE STATED IS GOOD FOR THE COUNTRY AND ALL ITS RESIDENTS/CORPORATIONS/INSTITUTIONS.

  7. The fact that the Republican members of House and Senate REFUSE to take required action on bills, if only a hearing, they are ignoring the requirement of the Constitution and not upholding their sworn Oath of Office. I don’t remember the source of the quote, “Have you moved away by standing still?” but they have moved away from the basic foundation of their own party. They are turning on one another within the party and created a chaotic situation this nation continues to pay for; even with Trump gone from the White House he continues to control the party by both those actively working against it and those who do nothing to stop them.

    As a Democrat, I support Liz Cheney and hope Mitt Romney keeps speaking out; they appear to be struggling to return members of Congress to the actual GOP and away from Trumpism.

    “Today’s GOP is so radicalized, and its voters so misinformed (polls find that some two-thirds of self-identified Republicans think Trump won the election, despite a total lack of any credible evidence) that a Biden campaign modeled after Truman’s probably wouldn’t resonate. But it might be worth a try.”

    With all of the presidential duties and responsibilities President Biden has taken on, he has all of Trump’s deconstruction to government to repair, the Covid-19 Pandemic Trump followers who refuse vaccinations and safety precautions to protect against, the full release of the Mueller Report still hidden from Congress and the public, the January 6th Insurrection to resolve and the daily nonsense of Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, Matt Gaetz and Bill Barr to oversee. At this time; all of this must be resolved by the current slim majority of Democrats in House and Senate whose Republicans “Do Nothing…” to return this nation to it’s former respected and trusted place in our own country and with our allies around the world.

  8. The Dems have two big problems and they’re not Republicans. They are Manchin and Sinema. Maybe Mark Kelly can held Sinema find a better way, but nobody is going to make Joe Manchin turn in his keys to the kingdom. He holds the power and he’s leaving us all twisting in the wind.

  9. This poll released yesterday shows how the world perceives the US; we are considered a bigger threat to world democracies than Communist China or Russia.

    Meanwhile, we clamor about being the beacon of democracy and it’s why we have military bases in hundreds of countries. We also claim to support press freedom but jail journalists and their sources.

    The propaganda doesn’t match the reality and the disconnect is due to our fake news media. They aren’t truth-seekers, they’re bullshit spreaders.

  10. J.P. – Right on! The DEMS just blew another House seat in Texas with no discipline – poor turnout, multiple candidates to split the vote. Watch the special election in NM on June 1 – a solid DEM seat, but a semi “progressive” DEM for the GOP to lather over with “Defund the Police”, etc.

    Party over country is the scourge of the DEMs.

  11. What amazes me is the ambition Republican politicians have to run for Congress for the express purpose of doing nothing of significance. What also amazes me is the total disregard for the truth and for facts. Any group that relies on lies should lose its credibility.

  12. The Wisdom of Will Rogers:
    “There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.”
    Will Rogers

    The Right Wing Reactionary GOP Base has to pee on the fence, because Trump said to do it. When they get shocked, they blame the Democrats, BLM or Anti-Fa.

  13. BUT…Monotonous…the “Right Wing Reactionary GOP Base” votes when prodded by lies, fears and hate…Biden won by votes against Trump, not “for” anything….

  14. Todays GOP exists but for one purpose, rather like J.K. Galbraith’s “The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.” But they have jettisoned any claim for morality.
    The phrase “Of more than ordinary mediocrity,” does not come close to doing them justice. that phrase may have worked for Truman’s experience, though.

  15. In years past, public shaming would have proven an obstacle to all of the lies, sedition and tomfoolery that Republicans delight in today. How is it that shame, the bane of our founding fathers who fought duels to uphold their reputations (and of most others worth remembering), disappeared so rapidly from our value system? Repudiating the Republican view of politics and society has become an obligation of every American who loves our fragile experiment in democracy. And don’t speak to me of compromise or bi-partisanship. The Republicans have sucked all that air out of the room. Once you’ve concluded that disgraceful, anti-democratic behavior is acceptable, you’ve chosen the dark side and disqualified yourself as a participant in adult society. And that remains true even if 73 million Americans disagree.

  16. I was present on Labor Day, 1948, when Truman gave his Give ’em Hell speech in Cadillac Square in Detroit. Little did I know then that I would someday meet and befriend a man who had that speech memorized, a PhD Archivist of the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri. It so happens that my daughter and I are going to visit him this weekend.

    To topic > The Republican Party (now at a low of 25% of voters identifying) is not a party these days. It is rather a group of predators assembled to turn a deaf ear to corruption while cutting taxes for those who contribute to their “campaigns.” They never lose elections since such reports to the contrary are “fake news” or otherwise designated as propaganda by the libs. Black people should not vote. Lying isn’t lying; it’s based on alternative facts. The January 6 rioters were merely giving vent to their frustration which involved their freedom of speech and assembly as exculpatory in any event.

    This “party” is withering on the vine and is headed for the Whigdom from whose ashes it arose in 1854. Our task? Persevere. Win elections. Govern honestly, fairly, and with an eye to the common good, and, above all, defend our most precious asset held in common, our democracy, from all enemies, foreign AND domestic.

  17. Todd brings up Howard Zinn, but way before Howard Zinn, the apostle Paul stated in his second letter to his assistant Timothy in the B portion of chapter 4 verse 3,4 which reads; ” according to their own desires, they will surround themselves with teachers to have their ears tickled. 4 They will turn away from listening to the truth and give attention to false stories.”

    There is no interest in truth telling, there really was no interest in truth telling for Julian Assange, nor, most other self-proclaimed whistleblowers if there’s nothing in it for themselves!

    When the Holocaust deniers came on the scene directly after World War II, they pedaled that big lie! They basically told everyone not to believe their lying eyes and ears. There were plenty of Hitler sycophants that permeated society in the United States, they were glad to pick up his white nationalist Fascistic mantle. The German Bund dissolved into society. They basically turbocharged the big lies and formed white nationalist organizations. Power was the motive, and the chance to rule on a global scale!

    As Howard Zinn brought out, you can’t have a war on terrorism when war is terrorism! Profoundly thought-provoking? More painfully honest I would say!

    And giving Todd his props for discussing Zinn, Zinn was more often right than wrong.

  18. And, one other thing that I forgot to mention, they had the opportunity to rewrite history and change its narrative in the face of empirical evidence to the contrary! Well, we can see how well people accept the big lie, not because it’s the truth, it’s what they want the truth and the truths reality to be, contrary to empirical evidence.

  19. I remember when Mitch Daniels, as President of Purdue University, tried to prevent faculty from using Howard Zinn’s writings as part of their classroom curriculum. He ran into one of our most important undeclared freedoms, that of academic freedom. Fortunately, Mitch lost that one.

  20. It seems that there is among the hopeful possibilities nowadays a negative indicator on the political front that is pessimism about the Democrat Party, the only hope we have. Are the Republican toxins spreading?

    For sure improvement is necessary but I see the limitation to be that the Party of doing is hamstrung by the combination of almost no legislative advantage and less than that judiciously.

    We all ought to be campaigning for the salvation of democracy rather than whining about the lack of perfection.

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