Congressman John Dingell today announced that he would be retiring at the end of his current term, joining the likes of Alec Baldwin and Shia LaBeouf, both of whom have announced their departure from the limelight in recent days. (I suspect that the three men did not coordinate their announcements, but you never know.)
I know it’s not exactly an “apples to apples” comparison, but, having read the statements of each of these three men, I’m reminded of how much I’ve always liked John Dingell, in spite of our sometimes significant differences of opinion on important issues. He didn’t take the opportunity to settle any scores, or attempt to paint himself as a victim. He just sent a note out to his constituents saying simply, “I have tried to do my best, and I hope it was good enough.” I hope, when it’s time for me to go, I can manage to summon the same restraint, charm and humility.
(To be honest, there was a bit of venting. “I find serving in the House to be obnoxious,” Dingell told the Detroit News, referencing the acrimony and bitterness which seem to permeate American political discourse these days. Still, though, he did it with significantly more class, in my opinion, than the other two recent retirees noted above, both of whom pitched fits.)
While, on a day like to day, it’s probably best to focus on the man’s many successes, like the passage of the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act, his tireless work to bring universal health care to the United States, and his principled stand on the Civil Right Act, which he had every reason to think would end his then-just-starting political career, I do think it’s worth noting that he missed an opportunity to lead on global warming and fuel efficiency standards. As Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, he had an opportunity to do something really significant, and, instead, he dragged his feet, thinking that doing so would be in the best interests of his constituents. It was a decision, as you may recall, that would ultimately prove to be his undoing, as it would force Democratic leadership to oust him as Chairman, replacing him with someone who didn’t deny the significance of global warming. Michigan had an opportunity to lead, and we threw it away. Here’s a clip from one of the many rants I posted at the time.
…Even though I haven’t talked about it here in a while, I’m still bitter over the fact that Dingell, when he was Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, didn’t do more to create the kind of change that this country needed. Instead of using his then considerable strength in the House to champion causes that would have decreased global warming pollution and increased fuel efficiency, he expended his effort fighting reform on behalf of the Big 3 and their unions. (SUVs, after all, were where the profit was.) And that’s what bothers me. He could have been a truly great figure in American history. With his understanding of the auto industry, and his power, he could have led a revolution in green transportation that would have put Michigan back on the map. But, instead, he chose to fight against fuel efficiency and energy independence, and that’s what he’ll forever be known for – driving the last nail into the coffin of Detroit…
For what it’s worth, Dingell came to realize the error of his ways soon afterward, saying the following in 2009: “I should have held the automotive companies more accountable for their actions, or inactions, over the years.”
In spite of everything, though, I still very much respect the man, and wish him the long, happy retirement he deserves after nearly 60 years in Congress…
Just watch the following video of Dingell trying to explain the Affordable Care Act to a room full of hysterical Tea Party types, and tell me that he doesn’t deserve a massage, a stiff drink, and a comfortable chair facing the ocean.
Lastly, I’ve got a related question… Assuming that Debbie Dingell and Rebekah Warren face off it in the Democratic primary for John’s seat, just how dirty do you think it’ll get?
Oh, and let’s not forget when discussing Dingell’s many accomplishments that he’s not only the longest serving member of the House of Representatives, but also the only member of Congress, to my knowledge, to have ever left a comment on this site.