tv John Lawrence The Class of 74 CSPAN April 9, 2018 1:00am-2:03am EDT
cameron testifies about global security. unfoldsn, where history daily. in 1979, c-span was created as a public service by america's cable television companies and today we continue to bring you unfiltered coverage of congress, the white house, the supreme court, and public policy events aroundington, d.c., and the country. the country. [applause] knew a book about congress could attract such a crowd. [laughter]
i am the co-owner of politics & prose and on behalf of everybod everybody, thank you so much for being here. part of the story is a chapter in the history of congress told by john lawrence and his new book the class of 74. but another part reflects a completing of the circle for him because in the 70s he earned a phd in history at berkeley but instead of pursuing a career in academia he ended up on capitol hill in the house of representatives and spent 38 years there number of years with the congressman from california than his final eight years chief of staff to nancy
pelosi. when he left the hill a few years ago he returned to academics teaching at the university of california to draw on his long experience in congress. he outlasted nearly all of them. [laughter] but not because he coincided but so with that watergate scandal one of the largest infusions in modern history with the high expectations of major institutional reform showing to have what it takes
after all this time to be careful methodical historian to examine the record of what it achieved and what it didn't. praising the book it is called a compelling account and essential of congressional history please help me to welcome john lawrenc lawrence. [applause] >> thank you to all of you for coming i really appreciate it i know it is saturday night and there is other things you could be doing but i am
grateful you came to this talk. so to acknowledge my family. [applause] i'm glad there are a lot of people here but my agent to was going to be here and i want to thank her for sticking with me throughout this long process i cannot tell which of my colleagues here my very good friend is here and if i missed anybody i apologize. in particular members of the
class lacks men, marty, phil, dave, i'm not sure if there is anybody else but in particular i thank them and 40 other members of the class and other members and staff people and house officers who participated in the research that goes into this book. those interviews that i did with them provide original intellectual material that informs the message of the book i'm tremendously great -- grateful for sharing their stories that are recorded.
i will not try to tell stories i will not read the book you can do that on your own but i do want to say that it is the power of these individual stories that cut through what is complex congressional history and procedure to explain what working in that institution so i want to acknowledge that. i did a terrific story here that marty russo shared with me from chicago the first time he as a candidate that the formidable mayor of chicago richard daly did not go as well as he hoped. there is a terrific story about jim blanchard from michigan who later became the governor then ambassador to canada when his classmates
were tremendously frustrated they cannot do more went up to tip o'neill and said maybe you can lead a revolt against carl albert. [laughter] that did not go so well but the book starts with a great story involving tom from new york the youngest member of the class to have an encounter on the floor with the congressman who was there two years by the time he was born in you can imagine how that went to is the opening story in the book the value of these stories are tremendous to give me the motivation why they ran which is misunderstood these are the actions i took as members of congress and i have to say so much would be lost to history without they are sharing their stories with me
and the book resulted. it is a good time to study about congress and i think people interested to learn more about congress. looking a lot like the earlier periods of congressional history that help to motivate the class to run for office congress abandons the constitutional responsibilities and backtracking on years and decades of bipartisan efforts to reassert as a co-equal branch branch of government to claw back the powers lost to the executive branch a failure to legislate even on issues with bipartisan support just to a failure of conducting oversight and what came out of the 1970s and where congress
should be taking the initiative the two ways that i feel congress is beginning to resemble what the senator from pennsylvania referred to so hopefully this book and other efforts underway including by several members of the class will help to stimulate a new generation of people coming into government running for congress that is very gratifying it isn't easy to study congress and not many historians do it when i was at berkeley nobody was studying congressional history. most is written about presidents. it is a lot easier to write books about presidents all the papers are in nice libraries that are named after them it is easy to find them. [laughter] but just this year there are new books obviously about
barack obama but roosevelt james buchanan, chester arthur, millard fillmore. the high school was named for millard fillmore but really? but in 70 years for the bancroft prize and pulitzer prize never once has there been a book for congressional history. so we have seen books about presidents in slavery even a book for the history of the cigarette. [laughter] i think that helps to describe the difficulty of writing about this institution so why did i? [laughter] first of all i felt my
combination of academic training and decades of working in congress gave specific insight and my friendship with many of these members give me the opportunity to sit down to gather their thoughts and stories and recollections that frankly another may not have the opportunity to do i felt it was a necessity because the way this class has been written about very distinguished political scientist said this is the most consequential congressional class of the 20th century. i want to be very clear this is not an homage to the class of 74. it looks at the record what they have accomplished, their historical significance, there are times i clarify the record other times i criticize the record and quite frankly some of their recollections were
critical of their own behavior and that shows that. [laughter] but the real problem i started off with is if you read about the class of 74 the one thing you probably know they are called the watergate babies came to washington and throughout a chairman then it is a gray fog we don't know much else about them even the historian of the house of representatives wrote a 500 page book on the house and devoted less than one page that is called the most consequential congressional class of the 20th century admitted the it is a large group of people it is an unusual group one member from connecticut said we looked weird i can't even believe we got elected. [laughter] that does explain some of that
but also to get strong reviews from congressional leadership that is not surprising because they were very critical of congressional leadership tip o'neill famously said they never did anything politically and never licked envelopes they never walked the precinct or stuffed flyers under automobile windows and republicans are even less sympathetic one said they were wild and uninhibited downright rude intemperate and immature. [laughter] that's not true and through much study you have to get through those characterizations to find out what the historical record is but actually it was a very diverse class not just a group
of young antiestablishment activist those who came out of untraditional politics they did come out nevertheless civil rights movement the women's rights movement small business even a house painter but also lieutenant governor, mayor, legislative leaders from the state legislature and the same proportion of people who served the one of the misunderstandings it was a less experienced group of political people but i argue they were quite sophisticated many elected or five political battles and other environments. but they were subjected to criticism for not accomplishing more than they did in fact in the middle of 75, keep in keep in mind they
had been in office at that point x months. they were called failures because they came to washington had not change the congressional institution or past backlog legislation that they could not pass decades before hand so the point i try to make clearly is it is true they were different in many respects they were impatient with obstructionism with the elitism and that unusual feeling was interpreted by many as hostility itself but that is not the case they came to washington very committed to working in the institution.
they did not come with a motion to destroy but rather rehabilitate because it was important for them to achieve goals to which they were devoted. they were among the most loyal of any group within congress they voted as a block consistently with leadership. one of the other points in evaluating these criticisms is they are faulted for not being more aggressive as reformers and not accomplishing more it is important to remember that they can come to congress for the most part talking to
dozens of these members what motivated you to run in the first place x they did not cite the need for reforming seniority system or redistributing power they were not aware of the early reform efforts for the most part like mccarthy were to select committees or those reform proposals they did not know about that wasn't her motive the motive over and over was to end the war in vietnam. and then they passed a resolution to cut off funding for the war in vietnam so by their standards they were successful. so remember why they felt so strongly. they came to washington at a time the public attitude to
government was extremely negative with watergate hearings investigation resignation came almost a decade of horrendous divisive war in vietnam and at a time as congress was just beginning to claw back some of the powers it empowered one -- abandoned and pass the war powers and in abandonment control act they try to pass more internal reforms to make the institution more responsive like legislative reform act the subcommittee bill of rights but there was
still a huge backlog of reform and the major efforts that was created under julie hansen failed and they failed in large part and the democratic caucus increasingly had a liberal tinge but congress was controlled by the conservative coalition of southern democrats which is the reason the democratic party controlled congress 58 out of 62 years between 34 and 1994 i'm sorry 32 when math is not good that's why i'm not a political scientist so that coalition could squelch most of the progressive legislation
and certainly the reform of the house rules to democratize the house that conservative coalition was in the democratic caucus to the seniority system which gave chairmanships based purely on how long you were alive if you had a pulse you could be the chairman was dispassionate just so you didn't get one if you agreed with the speaker it was independent but as time changed and people lived longer it was a system where that region of the country most likely would be we elected so by the time the
60s rolls around the chairmanships are disproportionately in the hands of conservatives in some cases voting 80% of the time with the republicans so negative attention the seniority system holding up legislation that the caucus is sympathetic towards and in addition much of what was going on in congress at that point was difficult for the average person to discern. people don't remember you couldn't just go flip on television to see what was debated on the house floor but also written committee reports and committee markups were held in secret so you have no idea of the recorded votes through most of the 60s so congress was pretty close
process, elitist dominated by a group that was out of touch and out of step with the majority of the democratic caucus. but then the reinforcements arrived when the class of 74 walked in the room. picking up 49 seats 76 new democratic members and they could accomplish the reforms that are discussed and documented in the book. one of the other things i talk about is the political atmosphere and culture of the 70s and it is important part of the book because it is overlooked and misunderstood of the environment that the 94th congress was operating.
in the mid- 70s marked by a significant revival of conservative politics because the democratic victories were so dramatic in those congressional elections in fact those losses were significant there were republicans who were predicting that as the south became more republican moving from the traditional support to reviving the party in the south the trajectory was they would lose southern seats and the parties would become on greater parity and that is in fact what was occurring but the large majorities that have scared that movement that took
republicans ten years from the watergate election to return to where they were at that time. they lost so many seats because of reapportionment and because they turned out to be pretty good politicians to get themselves reelected it took the republicans just to the mid- 80s to get back to where they were in 1972 and during that. of time developing in conservative politics emerged with the new party that moves closer to parity which of course to become a constant competition with the younger generation of republicans anticipated by differentiating themselves they could compete for control there is a very important book written on this
where she talks about that constant competition fueling the partisanship and rancor that comes to categorize contemporary politics also independent money opened by the campaign reform act the huge growth of independent money outside the controls of the party or more ideological and less collaborative individuals driving more extreme politics with the grassroots angelica movement but also grassroots political organization. and also what i talk about in the book is the emergence of those political issues of deep cultural basis. so not just the higher education after housing after transportation by issues
increasingly on both sides of the aisle have very strong cultural or religious significance in one of the arguments and make in the book as you get into them weather guns or abortion or series it becomes harder and harder to compromise because you are compromising matters of principle some of these reforms had those unintended consequences that would sneak in for political development mentioning special interest money the idea to expand the role to have a slightly different impact and people thought it would be even those reforms that the class help to support had the same effect and i should reiterate the
point most of the reforms this class is credited with promoting and put into place it is not what they propose but generated by people and this class could get the votes to enact them those reforms are very helpful for the institution to put some checks on the seniority system they did there about three chairman and interestingly many others got the message and half a dozen others retired so by the next congress begins well over half of the committees have new chairman and they are a lot more responsive than they were before others were thrown out but other reforms had some
dubious effects one of the major comments is that power was decentralized to the subcommittees that allowed more people to serve as chairman sand issues to come up and they could work autonomously so a lot of the issues that class members brought to congress that were stifled whether energy or consumer affairs or public health or air-quality or disabilities they were squelched by the conservative chairman now there was a venue where they can hold hearings and they were televised so now legislation began to move through the congress of public support but also more people had a chance to participate new opportunities to offer
amendments and now moving to television coverage, the offering of amendments becomes an act of political fear offered not to affect the outcome of legislation but to put marginal people into positions for leadership to vote against constituencies and combined with the rise of these issues that is a lightning point of congressional development over that time. i want to be very clear i'm not arguing the class of 74 cause partisanship. that isn't the argument but reforms in the context of the time served to allow the more divisive partisan issues to find a way into the political
debate where those more popular issues may not have been subjected to is much debate in the congress. in summary it shows a class more diverse, more complex than the history up to this point has discussed and it does provide context for the class in contemporary politics to go back and look where this took place. it was an incredible period of time for the members and congress. it was called a hinge point in history. something change the nature of the institution, the sense of the people to change the
public debate and raise issues into the public discussion into the congressional calendar. there was a phrase he called that a glory time so late 75 to say that it was a new era to emphasize the non- systemic use of power with moral aspirations as well. maybe the optimism was thinned not sure anybody could match that level of expectation of enthusiasm or agility that they had demonstrated with those early reform efforts but they were voting more disparate ways to promote their constituency and
ideology. but when an effort was made in 76 to say maybe we went a little too far maybe there are too many opportunities to vote on topics there was a caucus meeting where george miller said the proposal was to increase the votes required to get a recorded vote that was 20 up at 36 he said that is the wrong thing to do i understand we have to vote on unpopular issues but someday we could be in the minority maybe we shouldn't make it so difficult for the minority to participate that is democracy.
because of that near unanimous support that proposal to make that more difficult was voted down. now they revisited that a few years later and they did increase the number because things did get out of hand but for the moment they stuck with a reformist agenda so in closing the reason i think this book is timely and important and i'm glad they released it when they did to help grow confidence in an institution that isn't doing very well right now. it shows what activists can do. even if they are resistant to change against those public issues.
because they did come in with the notion that they would change this institution back so congress was responsive to the public which is not what it had been and they would force congress to address the issues he believed was so important and in doing that to reassert as a co- equal branch of government that had been lost certainly like we see today that we listen to speaker of the house and others in congress who say just wait for the president to send us whatever he wants that isn't the role congress is supposed to play that was the message that the class of 74 delivered in washington. i remember once we are at a town hall meeting in california and george was giving a talk to retirees at a
retirement home and went to this long discussion of what was going on in congress and the votes in the inside news and after he talked he said are there any questions someone said what time is dinner? knowing full well you may have other things to do i will stop for questions and answers. [applause] thank you. please come to the microphone. >> i think a lot of the people are hoping for a momentous class of 2018. [applause] or will have read your book
what are the main lessons they should draw from the book if there was such a class? be mecca assuming they win? [laughter] because there will be a class of 2018. but the most important lesson. there are a few that are hypocritical in terms of success. one is to be disciplined about your objective don't try to do everything at the same time but prioritize. another that is important is getting to know the members and know each other one of the first things they did was form the organization called the new members caucus and they met regularly in the next
class didn't form one interestingly but anybody who worked in around congress knows those personal relationships are crucial to gain trust not just talking the people you agree with but those you don't and i think those were among the things that they have to do. >> what happened afterwards? 1976 was a democratic year but how quickly he was the drop
off? gradually over a lot of people defeated subsequently? i think the last members just now retiring this year. i was interested in the class spending a lot of time with the gentleman and so i'm wondering did they all go to pocatello? what happened? [laughter] >> that follow-up election was a big issue they were criticized by the veteran legislators for spending a lot of time thinking how they would win the election more senior people didn't worry. they had a historical precedent it was a very large democratic victory why johnson
could pass so much great society legislation and 76 the bottom fell out it didn't lose the majority but many seats so they were schooled from the outset to maintain close constituent relationships there is a whole chapter call before you save the world save your seat. go home and use newsletters it was very successful to use technology like fax machines they had mobile offices they would develop to drive through their district they were very aggressive about to maintain the political side and they were hopeful they can hold their losses to no more than
15 there were two defeats and one of them was an ethics issue that probably didn't have a lot to do with politics and another was a seat that was considered marginal that by 82 or 80 for half of the classes gone. that sounds terrible but the average tenure is only seven or eight years it's not as long as people think certainly not as long as people who want term limits some stayed through the '90s some because of the subcommittee system could play effective legislator roles more than
they could otherwise. thank you for the question. >> i realized on -- did not realize you were that funny but one of the reasons we were motivated to be reelected because in the first reading or orientation the seated members tell us look to your left and look to your right to have you will not be here. seventy-four were reelected because that new members caucus we would spend time figuring out the best way to contact constituents to win coming in from the 66% republican district nobody expected us to win again so that new members caucus we would meet and talk how can we do that? the interesting thing people may not realize we had 293
democrats at the time and had over 150 or 160 votes where were the other votes coming from? the two years and four years before us they tried the reforms they just needed more votes. i'm glad you spelled my name good because tip o'neill got it wrong. [laughter] >> thank you. [applause] he spells it marty russo in tip o'neill book he said spell my name. [laughter] i appreciate the fact that you were describing the outcome
that is very useful. working on the campaign in the state of iowa to see the new members of the class show up as you said a lot of things were happening with the war powers act, budget legislation and things that were shifting power also in the political arena and it was critical but talk about fundraising and what that was like with this class or what lessons you could learn from that time? >> it is a different world people were elected in this class like bob edgar was just a few thousand dollars just a completely different world. partly there was great shock
that they had any chance of winning at all. people were able to win seats with very small resources. but as the court decisions undercut the impact of the campaign finance law 74 and of course the subsequent court decisions like citizens united have shredded any hope we have in fact when people ask me like students do what you think is the biggest problem contemporaneously? worry -- money really does worry me the most because it has the constitutional overlay that makes it more difficult
to impose those restrictions we thought we could end in 74 under subsequent efforts. >> ever is a long time. so with campaign finance and campaign spending limits so in oregon and 74 the state legislature previously passed the year before series of limits on various seats statewide as well as federal. it didn't hold up in the courts but it did for the one election season so in my race in the first congressional district, i could not spend more than $75000 in the primary. then in the general. nor could my opponent.
my opponent became a supreme court justice a few years later and we had talked and we both agree the people at the time were no less well-informed than they are today actually they are better informed because the way the funds were used rather than all the attack ads now. but i should make one concession that. >> now you make that. [laughter] it took very strong legislative leadership to pass campaign-finance limitation. i was the house majority leader of the time i hope to pass that law but the fact that i ran for congress one year later is merely a
coincidence. >> i agree the biggest problem in the country is to a great extent we have turned our lawmakers into telemarketers and that was said on 60 minutes and a wonderful interview and it just has to stop somehow. it really is the number one problem. >> somebody did ask about that an earlier question about the member of the class i should point out there is a bid at -- a big * next to the name you left congress thinking back 32 years later the longest interim of any member of congress in history now just announced he will not run again so at the end of this
congress will be the first time since 1975 oh members of the house class of 74 in the house of representatives. >> congratulations on the book speaking as a historian, you mentioned the leadership had less than flattering comments about the class of 74 and also said things that were attributed by interviewing those members of the class did you find their assessment or recollections are activities deferred significantly from the historical record? >> i think, again i would constantly ask them why did you run? what was your motivation? and i was stunned and i have a
whole chapter about republicans i will mention that but how consistently vietnam was mentioned people think because of watergate but they made the decision when the watergate decision was still early. we don't get into the impeachment hearings until the summer of 74 the resignation in august. they made their decisions already. that wasn't the reason they were running overwhelmingly because of vietnam there were some who felt they were there too long we need new faces but overwhelmingly i found the issue was vietnam.
the reason i talked mostly about the democrats not because i worked for democrats but these reforms were effectuated to the democratic caucus it was not done on the house floor if there was an effort to pass the net conservative coalition probably would have blocked them but within that democratic caucus they could pass legislation because of the infusion of the class of 74. in fact they were empowered with more liberal members deciding to pass popular votes to find them but that didn't hold up for very long there was a lot of pushback with that but i do have a whole chapter on the republicans a lot of people felt they were coming here as reformers and
several expressed regret they didn't have an opportunity to play a more significant role because all the work was done within the democratic caucus and regardless how positively they were inclined they had noble to play as republican members and not many stayed around because they felt they could not participate fully but also a growing pressure from the group that was outside congress quickly becoming the most aggressive part of the republican party what is interesting to note they identified their leadership as a problem just as many people the democratic caucus identify the democratic leaders will -- a leader to
cautious into willing to accommodate or lock into the notion of a permanent minority in fact august september 1994 only a few months from the election results from the first republican majority of book is published by two conservative political scientist at california that said the permanent republican majority only at the last minute they added a? >> do you have a sequel in mind about the staffers that came in with the class of 74? [laughter] and what happened to them?
>> i think the staffers do. i'm not planning on that. i'm not sure the staff was any different people ran for office or went off into activist causes or law firms which is not the same thing. [laughter] in a candy institution be saved? >> i appreciate you asking that question and here is the answer. i will start with a preface i know this will sound self-serving and don't mean it that way but i am speaking purely as a historian.
all those problems i mentioned the congress are accurate but i would remind people you only have to go back nine or ten years even the most serious critics of the contemporary congress call the most successful congress of the last 75 years is not just the first two years of the obama administration where the stars aligned similar like 64 or 74 but even the last year of the bush administration people working on collaborative effort. they didn't like each other but faced with the national crisis on the verge of the election they could work on a bipartisan basis to address
the fiscal crisis in healthcare and the aftermath and pasty meatless bills and progressive energy legislation. that is an institution very functional and there is nothing institutional about congress that has changed. so is there hope? yes. not only from democrats a lot what was done was done with republican support historically with good policy legislation but very much it affects the question who are you sending to washington? one of the major differences
these guys did not come to washington to destroy washington but to make government work they sought as a fundamental institution to accomplish those goals and that is the major difference with people you see arrive subsequently with a don't have a huge investment to maintain integrity or reputation of the congress so who is in charge and what are their objectives? if they don't care and they don't feel invested in the institution then you will have a very hard time to have a responsive congress. >> thank you for writing the book. i have a fairly incoherent question so looking at your
career and who you've worked with as an activist the relationship between movements and politics what would you say to those young activists who are resisting now? what is the relationship to congress? >> i always tell my students there is a difference between activism and politics. advocacy tells you what i think and politics gets you to agree with me two different skills but they are important. i don't think every activist
should work on a political campaign for social change or political change. but it is a problem when people don't understand if you make that change into the political process that is collaborative you will encounter people who have just as much commitment to their point of view as you so simply to say that louder doesn't necessarily convince anybody. [laughter] so bringing people from activist organizations or movements are not to be discouraged but also on the part of politicians that your responsibility from the elected official is to receive
the message that your job is to translate that into politics sometimes that does raise fiction -- create fiction sometimes that happens but i do believe the single most encouraging thing that i see going on is young people activism i'm not sure under these circumstances i would draw the conclusion that was useful commitment of my time to get into politics so i think of this if you were 19 years old most of your mature years you have seen nothing but dysfunction and partisanship and rancor and that is disturbing but yet
when i did a poll with my students at the university of california after the last election how many were happy with the outcome, very few were and i asked does this make you more or less likely to get involved every single one said more so i look at the response of the students and that is tremendously encouraging and one of the important messages of this book.