I’m late to the party on this, but I finally got around to reading Jennifer Senior’s New York magazine piece on the sclerotic Senate. Here’s the quote that got me:
The best way to explain this change is to look at the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Back then, there was a “four-party Senate” ??? northern Democrats, southern Democrats, liberal Republicans (from the Northeast, mainly), and conservative Republicans (from the Midwest and West). Southern Democrats were conservatives and often straight-up racists, invested in upholding the structures of the old South. Northern Democrats wanted to dismantle them, as did liberal Republicans. And while some conservative Republicans opposed the Civil Rights Act, they did so less out of racist anxieties than principles of limited government. But the point was this: There was seldom such as thing as party unity. When LBJ wanted to pass the Civil Rights Act, he leaned just as heavily on the Republican leader, Everett Dirksen, as he did on Mansfield. And in the end, Dirksen delivered a greater percentage of his caucus ??? 27 out of 33 senators, versus [Maj. Leader Mike] Mansfield???s 46 out of 67. (Marty Gold, the former adviser to Howard Baker, likes to remind people that Richard Nixon got 32 percent of the black vote in 1960.)
Exactly! The problem with the Senate today is that centrists are not rewarded, and the parties are more ideologically homogeneous than at any time in the past century, if not its entire history. And it’s about to get more ideologically split with the likely defeat of Arlen Specter and Blanche Lincoln in Tuesday’s primaries.