The Class of '74
Congress after Watergate and the Roots of Partisanship
A thought-provoking look at the game-changing congressional Class of 1974.
In November 1974, following the historic Watergate scandal, Americans went to the polls determined to cleanse American politics. Instead of producing the Republican majority foreshadowed by Richard Nixon’s 1972 landslide, dozens of GOP legislators were swept out of the House, replaced by 76 reforming Democratic freshmen. In The Class of '74, John A. Lawrence examines how these newly elected representatives bucked the status quo in Washington, helping to effectuate unprecedented reforms. Lawrence’s long-standing work in Congress afforded him unique access to former members, staff, House officers, journalists, and others, enabling him to challenge the time-honored reputation of the Class as idealistic, narcissistic, and naïve "Watergate Babies." Their observations help reshape our understanding of the Class and of a changing Congress through frank, humorous, and insightful opinions.
These reformers provided the votes to disseminate power, elevate suppressed issues, and expand participation by junior legislators in congressional deliberations. But even as such innovations empowered progressive Democrats, the greater openness they created, combined with changing undercurrents in American politics in the mid-1970s, facilitated increasingly bitter battles between liberals and conservatives. These disputes foreshadowed contemporary legislative gridlock and a divided Congress.
Today, many observers point to gerrymandering, special-interest money, and a host of other developments to explain the current dysfunction of American politics. In The Class of '74, Lawrence argues that these explanations fail to recognize deep roots of partisanship. To fully understand the highly polarized political environment that now pervades the House and American politics, we must examine the complex politics, including a more open and contentious House, that emerged in the wake of Watergate.
About the Author
John A. Lawrence is a visiting professor at the University of California's Washington Center. He worked in the House of Representatives for 38 years, the last eight as chief of staff to Speaker and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.
"A remarkably vivid portrait of Congress in the mid-1970s. It is hard to put down and downright fun to read."
"Lawrence has produced a fascinating account of the Class of '74, who transformed Congress in the aftermath of Vietnam and Watergate. Students of American politics must read this gripping story of these turbulent years on Capitol Hill."
"Drawing upon his three decades of experience as a congressional staff member and his training as a historian, John A. Lawrence has written a remarkable, entertaining book about the individuals and inside politics of the post-Watergate cohort in the House of Representatives and their unintended contribution to contemporary political polarization."
"Congressional reforms enacted during the 1970s revolutionized American lawmaking. In The Class of '74, John A. Lawrence masterfully examines the people and politics that redefined 'regular order' in the House of Representatives—in ways that were intended, and in ways that were not. It is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand how Congress worked in the past, does work now, or could work in the future."
"A most welcome fresh look at a critical period in the history of Congress and the role played by the legendary Class of 1974. Lawrence marshals his formidable skills as an historian and his savvy as a senior congressional staffer to produce an important and enlightening book."
"In the wake of the Watergate scandal, the historic election of 1974 remade the Congress with waves of fresh-faced reformers. But what did the changes they brought actually mean? John A. Lawrence delivers the surprising answers in these engrossing pages."
"With the insights of a long-time insider, the deep research of a first-rate historian, and a lively and readable style, John Lawrence has produced the definitive account of the rise and impact of the most consequential congressional class in the twentieth century. As one who was immersed in Congress at the time, reading The Class of '74 was at times déjà vu all over again, but I also learned a great deal about Congress then and its impact on Congress now. This will be a landmark volume on congressional history."
"John A. Lawrence has written a wonderful book shedding fresh light on how a single congressional class changed the House—and deepened the process of partisan polarization that defines American politics. This book should be assigned in every course on Congress and read by anybody eager to understand the roots of our current political distempers."
"John Lawrence has a novelist’s grasp of Capitol Hill. With The Class of '74 he shows us what Richard Nixon wrought. With the fall of a president came the young, educated, new generation anxious for power. The 'Watergate Babies' were out to change history. Facing them across the chasm of time were the encrusted figures who’d ruled Congress for decades. And what characters they were! I’ve never read anyone who 'gets' Congress and its characters as Lawrence does. He feels the Hill’s story because he spent years feeding on it."
"The Class of '74 is a must-read for congressional scholars. Lawrence is able to explain the first branch of government to laypeople in an accessible and entertaining fashion."
"The Class of ’74 is an important and entertaining political biography of a unique group of legislators and a deeply researched history of a period of major change in our politics. John Lawrence has written a fascinating account that sheds new light on Congress’s past and reveals deeper truths about its present."
"John A. Lawrence offers a remarkable political history of the forces and characters that shaped the arrival and accomplishments of the post-Watergate Class of '74. Lawrence draws from decades of unparalleled experience on Capitol Hill to produce an insightful and compelling account of how these newcomers changed laws and reformed Congress—inadvertently unleashing decades of change that brought us today’s hyper-partisan and often stalemated Congress."
"John A. Lawrence’s recounting of the congressional class of 1974 makes for fascinating reading as well as a compelling exploration of the origins of partisan polarization. As he traces the careers of these Congress members from their dramatic electoral triumphs in 1974 to their final retirements in 2014, Lawrence provides insight into the transformation not only of the US Congress but also our politics."
"If you want to know how we got to this bitterly partisan time in politics, read this book. Through hundreds of fascinating interviews plus rigorous research, Lawrence shows us how unintended consequences of congressional 'reforms' started the country along this poisonous path. "
"An essential work of congressional history."
"And [Lawrence] was about a month from publishing The Class of ’74: Congress After Watergate and the Roots of Partisanship, his timely book on the uses and abuses of congressional power."
"This is an exceptionally useful study of congressional dynamics. Taking full measure of how House members actually think and act, the author includes telling anecdotes sprinkled with occasional salty language. Highly recommended."
"The Class of '74 is an interesting, readable exposition about the reformers, their struggle to transform the legislative branch, and the consequences of their choices. Reading The Class of '74 reveals as much about Congress today as it does about Congress 44 years ago. Lawrence, a visiting professor at the University of California who spent several years serving as chief of staff to then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), tells a story that is not only interesting in its own right but helps explain, in Frum's words, how we got here."
"In the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats won more new seats in the House of Representatives than at any other time since the Watergate scandal. But few Americans know much about the 1974 elections that occurred in the wake of that scandal. John A. Lawrence's compelling new book, The Class of '74, seeks to correct that deficit. Lawrence worked in the House for nearly four decades, allowing him to translate often-arcane congressional rules and procedures into clear, readable prose... But Lawrence also holds a Ph.D. in history, and The Class of '74 is as rigorously researched and nuanced as any academic work—with the potential to reach a wider audience interested in politics... As the media focuses on a largely Democratic class of newcomers who defy the status quo, Lawrence's engaging book connects these developments to a longer history of congressional reform."
"Lawrence combines his thirty-eight years of Hill experience with an historian's eye to tell the story of those who occupied the House of Representatives during "a hinge point in history." While others have certainly chronicled the congressional reforms of the 1970s writ-large, few have done so from a practitioner's point of view... Academics and practitioners alike should find this book to be a valuable resource. So too will the young staffer, legislative liaison officer, or lobbyist entering the realm of Capitol Hill politics. Lawrence's insights provide a welcome, fresh analysis that is of both historical and contemporary value."
|Johns Hopkins University Press|
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