By the time John Dingell and Henry Waxman leave Congress at the end of this session, they will have served just a few months shy of 100 years combined from their seats in Michigan and California.
Their simultaneous parting makes sense as each served as the other’s foil for so long. For decades, their congressional careers intertwined in tense power struggles, a mingling I had the chance to see up close in the late 1980s and early 1990s. During work on the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, I had the honor of being cursed out by Chairman Dingell, making him the second most powerful politician ever to have let me know in strident tone and content that I didn’t have the right to challenge a point of fact as he stated it. Despite this, I admired his dedication and commitment to his cause. From Chairman Waxman and some of his staff, I learned that when you argue from the far left, the self-presumption that your motives are pristine allows for fudging in methods of achieving one’s objectives. It’s a lesson I’ve never agreed with, but never forgotten in coming to my own conclusions on right and wrong in politics and policy.
During their decades and decades and decades of service, there is no doubt that Congressmen Dingell and Waxman did great good at times. There’s equally no doubt that extensive attentiveness to protecting committee jurisdiction, engagement in personal disputes and long-ago separation from the realities of daily American life led to less-than-optimal policies at others. I’m grateful for the chance to have watched them work together more than two decades ago, when they showed an ability to put aside personal power struggles long enough to reach agreements on significant legislation.
I’m glad they are going together. It’s only right. Dingell and Waxman belong together as much as Oscar and Felix from The Odd Couple.
This unlikely pair might not be the best example of why we need a political system with fewer incumbent advantages, but you can’t look at nearly 100 years for two congressmen and say we have the ideal system for electing citizen legislators. I hope we will fix our political system so legislators stop seeing Washington, D.C. as their true home.
After all, centuries should be celebrated by nations, not elected officials.