Ed mentioned earlier that Dingell’s wife is a top candidate to succeed him but I want to make sure everyone understands just how long this dynasty is. The guy who held Dingell’s seat before he was first elected to the House in 1955 was … John Dingell Sr. And Dingell Sr wasn’t a newcomer: He took his seat on March 3, 1933, the day before FDR was sworn in as president for his first term. The Dingells have been represented in Congress since before the New Deal. And at age 60, Debbie’s got a fair shot at a long run herself. If she can serve 19 years, it’ll be a full century of Dingellmania in the House for Michigan. And if she can’t serve 19 years, no worries. Christopher Dingell, John’s son, was elected to the state senate at the tender age of 30 and now serves as a judge. He’s a few years younger than Debbie and is right in line behind her. Who knows? Maybe we’ll get lucky and have a Dingell-versus-Dingell primary for the old man’s seat. That would be a fittingly grotesque end to having one family dominate its district for more than 80 years.
I’m all for Debbie Dingell running, incidentally. I say this sincerely.
Debbie Dingell, a Democratic power broker and chairwoman of the Wayne State University Board of Governors, is expected to run for Michigan’s 12th Congressional District, now that her husband, U.S. Rep. John Dingell, announced his retirement Monday, political experts said…
John Dingell, in office since 1955, yields tremendous political influence and an endorsement for his wife would carry weight within the party and potentially could ward off a contentious Democratic primary.
“Debbie Dingell has political gravitas. John Dingell has three times more,” Bucholz said. “… No one in Michigan will second guess Congressman Dingell on who should be his replacement. If they do, it wouldn’t be in public.”…
“She would be almost impossible to beat,” said Trupiano, now a Democratic state House candidate. “She certainly has the connections. She has the finesse and the progressive chops to make this her seat.”
I grumble about dynastic politics every time a Clinton, Bush, Kennedy, or Cheney makes noise about running for something but in hindsight I think my approach is all wrong. If you want to build a backlash against dynasties, the goal of which would be a federal term-limits law, you’re going to need more dynasties, not less. Granted, term limits won’t solve the problem completely — the Dingells of tomorrow will simply bounce from the House to the Senate to the governor’s seat rather than staying put for decades — but at least it’ll cure the repulsive spectacle of a man spending 58 years in Congress and the media applauding him for it. You’ll never get a term-limits bill through Congress unless legislators feel they have no choice but to pass it, though, and you’ll never convince them they have no choice but to pass it unless public anger at dynasties gets much hotter than it is now. The only way to make that happen is to force-feed voters more of them until they’re good and nauseated. Clinton versus Bush II in 2016? Fine. Chelsea Clinton and George P. Bush running for the House in a few years? Terrific. Liz Cheney will certainly run for something again. Maybe Michelle Obama could be convinced to run for Senate too; she’s just 50 years old and there’d be plenty of support in Illinois. What we need is a Cloward-Piven strategy here — overload the federal government with so many ruling-class brand names that the public finally vomits from the decadence. Republicans, the party of small(er) government, will have to lead on this, but there’s plenty of support out there to be had. All it takes is politicians who value the health of their democracy more than their own dynastic potential. How many of those do you suppose we can find? Three? Four?
Exit question: Why not a constitutional amendment instead? Get it going in the states and, if/when you’ve got three-quarters of them signing on, dare Congress not to pass it.