What's even more impressive about Obama's accomplishments, historians say, is the fractious political coalition he had to marshal to victory. "He didn't have the majority that LBJ had," says Goodwin. Indeed, Johnson could count on 68 Democratic senators to pass Medicare, Medicaid and the Voting Rights Act. For his part, Franklin Roosevelt had the backing of 69 Senate Democrats when he passed Social Security in 1935. At its zenith, Obama's governing coalition in the Senate comprised 57 Democrats, a socialist, a Republican turncoat — and Joe Lieberman.
This is an apples and oranges comparison and I really wish people who are significantly smarter than I am would stop making it. I've actually written about this before,
In the session when FDR had his greatest majority, 1937, the Senators from the following states were all from the Democratic party,
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
In other words 28 of the 76 Democrats were actually Dixiecrats from the old Confederacy - or border states sympathetic to the Confederate cause. . A caucus with 37% old south membership paints a far different picture than what Silver's initial analysis demonstrates.
While Senator Robinson of Arkansas was Majority Leader and an ardent FDR supporter (up until his death in the summer of 1937) it was actually southern Democrats who led the charge to defeat Roosevelet's court packing scheme. That plan was a centerpiece of the Roosevelt agenda after the 1936 election and its failure was a huge blow to the President.
Liberals today rightly complain when Republicans make comparisons between the bi-partisan deal on Medicare that LBJ formed as opposed to Obama's health care package. We know full well that past bi-partisanship was directly attributable to the fact that the parties were each a mixture of conservative and more progressive forces for much of the 20th century. You can't compare today's Democratic or Republican caucus to their counterparts of the mid 1930s or 1960s because the parties didn't fit into clear ideological boxes.