Wednesday, May 29, 2013

I'm Here I'm Not

Hey, it's MMM -- Marjorie Margolies, one term Clinton-era Member of the House (and now Clinton extended family member) is reported to be running for her old House seat in Pennsylvania. I have no idea whether she'll return to Congress; she'll apparently have to survive what could be a tough primary for an open Democratic seat.

Margolies (at the time Margolies-Mezvinsky, thus MMM) is famous for supplying the winning vote for the Democratic budget in 1993 and then, as Republicans predicted, losing her seat in the GOP landslide of 1994. At the time, her district was hotly contested, and so it's no surprise that she failed to hold it; 1992 was a good year for Democrats, and 1994 a bad one, however she had chosen to vote on that bill. She had won very narrowly in 1992, by less than a single percentage point, and then lost by four points in 1994 -- a far smaller swing than her party suffered nationally. One has to be careful about these things...the national swing was probably driven mostly by enormous shifts in Southern districts, so it would be useful to match up comparable districts to see what happened. Still, it's hard to say from those numbers that her loss had much to do with her, or her vote. It's more of a myth than fact.

At the same time -- it's hard to argue that Democrats in 1994 would have been worse off if their economic plan had been defeated in the House (if there really was no other available vote). Republicans could still have run against it -- and against Democratic chaos, as well. Of course, they had plenty of that, with Clinton's failed stimulus and failed heath care plan. That is, failed in Congress.

The other point about Margolies, which I talked about last time she was in the news, is that her vote is often discussed in terms of voting her convictions against her district, but that's not how she describes it; in an op-ed during the Obama-era health care debate, she defended her vote in terms of how it (in her view) was good for her district, not in terms of putting some other priority ahead of representation. That doesn't necessarily mean she was a good representative -- that's a much more complicated question. But it does seem that she was attempting to do what she thought was good for the district.

I'm sure nothing anyone says at this point can change what everyone "knows" about her brief tenure in the House. It's worth noting, however, that much of what everyone "knows" appears not to be actually true.


  1. Usually when something passes by one vote, there are others who would have been willing to vote for it but only if their vote had been necessary to secure its passage.

    One example: a great deal of nonsense has been written about how Edmund G. Ross saved Andrew Johnson from conviction and removal from office.
    However, Hans L. Trefousse wrote in *Impeachment of a President: Andrew Johnson, the Blacks, and
    Reconstruction* (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press 1975), p. 169:

    "The closeness of the balloting may in itself be deceiving. Considerable evidence exists that other senators stood ready to vote for acquittal if their votes had been needed. As early as May 18 the Chicago *Tribune* asserted that the President's friends laid claim to four more votes in case of necessity, and the substance of the story was confirmed shortly after the trial by Samuel Randall, the Democratic Congressman from Pennsylvania. On August 3, Johnson himself wrote to Benjamin Truman that [Edwin D.] Morgan [of New York] had been one of the Republicans in question. In 1913, Senator Henderson also asserted that Morgan had been the reputed swing voter. Because of the intense pressure, he voted to convict, but would not have done so had his vote made any difference. Some years earlier the Missouri senator told William A. Dunning that [Waitman T.] Willey [of West Virginia] had also been ready to switch, a point he later reiterated to Trumbull's biographer, Horace White. He also mentioned Sprague as one of the senators willing to change, and John Bigelow learned that [James W.] Nye [of Nevada] had been another. In short, Johnson's victory was assured long before the vote was taken. A sufficient number of moderate
    Republicans stood ready to acquit him, come what might."

  2. David:
    The MMM story became apocryphal because of how it unfolded. When she voted, the Republicans--ever classy--yelled "Bye-bye Marjorie" (or similar comments). Her vote came right at the end, so it seems pivotal.

    Naturally, you're right, and as Jon points out here, there's a really good chance that the vote DIDN'T hurt her vote share. But, there's also a point of this whole episode to show how single events become lore and rules of thumb in Congress. Before tying pay to the general COLAs, members would recount how members were burned in effigy and 50% of incumbents 1806!


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