IT SCARCELY DESERVES THE NAME OF PARTY." Such was the judgment of political scientist V. O. Key Jr., writing in his magisterial 1950s study, Southern Politics, of the Republican party in the South. "It wavers somewhat between an esoteric cult on the order of a lodge and a conspiracy for plunder in accord with the accepted customs of our politics. Its exact position on the cult conspiracy scale wavers from place to place and from time to time."
The last half of the twentieth century, which followed the publication of Key's opus, has been a period of seismic turmoil and change in American politics, no more so anywhere than in the Southern states. Well before the conclusion of this era, by the time Bill Clinton of Arkansas began planning his drive for the White House, the Republican party in the South had matured into a powerful entity that, in many places, dominated its Democratic opposition. But even after all these years of accomplishment for Republicans, even as Newt Gingrich of Georgia was rising to claim a place among the party's national leadership, V. O. Key's scornful indictment came close to accurately describing the Republican party in the House of Representatives.
Like the Republican party in the South of 1950, the Republican party in the House had been in the minority for so long -- forty unbroken years, and forty-six out of the last fifty by the time Bill Clinton was inaugurated president and members of the 103rd Congress took their oath of office -- that most of the Republican members of the House had given up any realistic hope of changing their situation.
The partisan imbalance in the House of Representatives had become an additional distortion of the political system, growing out of the structural distortions engineered by its eighteenth-century creators. The constitutional