Ugh. What a pile of suck. And those were just the worst offenders. Of that crowd, Baucus recently announced his retirement, leaving only Landrieu and Pryor—and Pryor will lose his re-election battle. Maybe Landrieu will, too. Daschle was in charge of the Democratic caucus, horrifyingly enough.
On the progressive end we had Barbara Boxer, Daniel Inouye, Daniel Akaka, Tom Harkin, Ted Kennedy, Russ Feingold and Barbara Mikulski. Maybe a handful more. Not too bad, but a minority within the party.
Today, we still have Boxer and Mikulski, but they've been 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, our middle-of-the-road senators are people like Jeanne Shaheen, not Bob Graham. And our conservative faction is a shell of its former self, with only Joe Manchin left at the level of our 2004 gallery of rogues. The caucus has shifted significantly to the left.
Back in 2004, Republicans held a 222-210 lead in the House. On paper, that looks better than our current 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. That cap was eventually lifted, and 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 our caucus was happier making common cause with Republicans than with Democrats. Today, the Blue Dogs are down to 19 members, and GOP gerrymandering and retirements will whittle that down even further after this year's elections.
I haven't even gotten into 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.
We still have to contend with that GOP gerrymander in the House and at the state level (2010 was a huge step backward), with a conservative Supreme Court, and a media and political establishment that still overly defers to increasingly fringe Republicans. And of course, our party 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 are the beneficiaries of demographic trends that will only accelerate those changes.
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.