A compelling account of a vital era in the history of the U.S. Congress.
Presidential historians are ubiquitous. They can earn a level of semi-fame (and exalted status) by writing books on topics that are neither especially new nor underexplored. Meanwhile, congressional historians, who write about a government branch that is every bit as important—and possibly more so, since legislation, after all, originates in Congress—do not enjoy anywhere near the same measure of fame. In this significant book on the massive (and overwhelmingly Democratic) freshman class of the House of Representatives that won election in November 1974, Lawrence, who worked in the House for 38 years, including eight as the chief of staff for Nancy Pelosi, serves up a timely reminder of why we need more prominent histories of the complex business that goes on in the Capitol. The author provides a fine rendering of the so-called “Watergate Babies”—a term Lawrence avoids as condescending—and the way that they helped to reform the House by challenging the rules of seniority and some of the procedures that they perceived as anti-democratic impediments to passing legislation. Lawrence argues that at least some of these changes would backfire on the Democrats when the Republicans and Newt Gingrich took over the House in the wake of the 1994 elections. Writing about Congress is unquestionably challenging. There are hundreds of individuals and no one giant figure who can bend the branch to his or her will, and the procedures are Byzantine and complicated. Yet Lawrence, who combines the lived experience of working in Congress with the academic credentials to provide scholarly ballast, successfully navigates these choppy waters, telling a complicated story while making convincing arguments about the significance of the 94th Congress. The epilogue offers brief biographies of each of the members of the “Class of 1974.”
An essential work of congressional history.