...and nothing happened. Well, not quite nothing, but most of the liberal agenda was stopped by rules that empowered conservatives in the House of Representatives. Yup, the House, not (primarily) the Senate.
And so the first Congress with JFK in the White House was relatively unproductive, and Democrats didn't do especially well in the 1962 midterms. Meanwhile, liberals inside and outside of Congress applied major pressure for reform, and in fact during those years, liberals in the House enacted major reforms. So Democrats started passing major legislation including the Civil Rights Act, and then when Democrats won another landslide in 1964, Congress was ready to enact the preferences of large liberal majorities, and the result was the famous 89th Congress.
The point is that it's certainly not unprecedented in American history for a party to win large majorities and be partially stymied by Congressional rules, but that the likely result is, in fact, reform -- especially if they continue winning. Simple majorities are often not enough, but one of the forms of supermajority that can work is consistent majorities over time.
I can't predict that Democrats are going to do as well electorally in the upcoming elections as they did in 1962 and 1964. I can, however, predict with a lot of confidence that if they do -- which would mean relatively small losses in 2010 followed by a solid victory in 2012 -- that we'll see similar results. That's the message that Jamelle Bouie and Matt Yglesias brought back from Las Vegas (and the Netroots Nation confab). This is, basically, how things work. Issues don't really emerge suddenly and then pass when your side wins an election; issues emerge slowly over time, and generally pass when (1) you win an election and (2) that issue has reached priority status.
Virtually no Democrats ran in 2006 or 2008 on Senate reform. I haven't checked, but I'd guess that quite a few are this year, especially those in contested primaries. And if Democrats do (relatively) well this fall -- keep the House, lose 3-5 Senate seats or better -- then virtually every Democrat in 2012, most likely including Barack Obama, is going to include Senate reform in their platforms.
In other words, I think Ezra Klein's campaign for blindfolded reform -- change the rules now to take effect in six years or so, in order that no one can know which party will benefit -- is extremely unlikely, but I agree with him that reform is coming, one way or another. As Klein says:
We are, however, getting closer and closer to the day when someone does change the rules. Republicans tried to protect judges from the filibuster under Sen. Bill Frist. Democrats are talking about changing the rules at the start of the 112th Congress. And now that they're talking about it, are they really confident that if Republicans take the Senate back in 2012 or 2014, that they won't do what the Democrats couldn't and change the rules in their favor?