Proud to Be A Democrat: John Dingell’s Last Warning

In my life and career, I have often heard it said that so-and-so has real power — as in, “the powerful Wile E. Coyote, chairman of the Capture the Road Runner Committee.”

It’s an expression that has always grated on me. In democratic government, elected officials do not have power. They hold power — in trust for the people who elected them. If they misuse or abuse that public trust, it is quite properly revoked (the quicker the better)…

Zack Stanton, in Politico, “You’re Living in the America John Dingell Made”:

He was elected to the House of Representatives in 1955, a year after the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education deemed “separate but equal” unconstitutional; he remained in office into the second term of the nation’s first black president. His 59 years in Congress are the most of anyone in American history and span more than a quarter of the time since the Constitution created the legislative branch. He was sworn in at 29, the same age Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is today. She would have to remain in the House until 2078 to match his tenure. He was there for the administrations of 11 of the nation’s 45 presidents. “Presidents come and presidents go,” Bill Clinton said at a 2005 celebration of Dingell’s 50th year in Congress. “John Dingell goes on forever.”…

Modern America is as much a creation of John Dingell’s life work as anyone’s. If you or a parent or grandparent have relied on Medicare or Medicaid; if you’ve seethed about the lack of gun control; if you’ve cheered that segregation of public places is illegal and employment discrimination is banned; if you’re thankful for the continued existence of the U.S. auto industry; if you’ve raged about gas-guzzling cars contributing to climate change; if your health insurance is purchased on the Obamacare exchanges; if you’ve swum in lakes or rivers or oceans free from toxic pollution; if you’ve drunk a glass of or bathed your children in tap water with confidence that it’s free from contamination; then John Dingell played a role in your life…

By the time he left Congress in January 2015, he’d reshaped American life. John Dingell pushed for universal single-payer health care before “Medicare for all” was a rallying cry—before Medicare even existed. His father introduced legislation in 1943 that would have established national health insurance as part of Social Security. The younger Dingell picked up the baton. Starting in 1957 and continuing for the next five decades, Dingell reintroduced a bill to provide universal health insurance. In the early 1960s, he agitated for the expansion of Social Security to provide health care to senior citizens. His efforts resulted in the creation of Medicare, whose enactment Dingell presided over in the House in 1965. Forty-five years later, he lent the same gavel to Nancy Pelosi to use for the vote on the Affordable Care Act.

Among the legislation he authored or led the charge in passing: the Clean Water Act of 1972, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, the Water Quality Act of 1965 and the Clean Air Act of 1990. He worked to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which resulted in a bruising primary fight and the burning of a cross on Dingell’s lawn for the second time in his life (his father had been an anti-Klan activist, and even as an old man, John Jr. remembered being 5 or 6 years old and looking out the front window of his family’s home to see a flaming cross). “Of all the bills I’ve played a part in helping pass into law,” he wrote in his 2018 memoir, The Dean, “that remains the one I’m most proud of.”

He was a consumer advocate who raged against, for example, the repeal of the Glass-Steagall financial regulations in 1999. “What we are creating now is a group of institutions which are too big to fail,” he said on the House floor in November 1999, presaging the financial industry’s meltdown and subsequent bailouts by almost a decade. “Taxpayers are going to be called upon to cure the failures we are creating tonight, and it is going to cost a lot of money, and it is coming.”…

He loathed Donald Trump—in his memoir, he refers to him as an “orange son of a bitch”—and in retirement, became a happy warrior for the resistance, amassing a Twitter following nearly a quarter-million strong. In recent years, thanks in large part to his buoyant personality on Twitter, his image became something like that of America’s Political Grandpa, known for his sassy rejoinders, cheerful dad jokes and plainspoken smackdowns. For anyone who knew him as a Capitol Hill power broker whose committee staff kept a framed photo of Planet Earth as an indication of what Dingell saw as his legislative jurisdiction, this was an odd turn, but he embraced it with vim…

31 replies
  1. 1
    Elizabelle says:

    WaPost link: Moving final message. Godspeed, John Dingell.

    One of the advantages to knowing that your demise is imminent, and that reports of it will not be greatly exaggerated, is that you have a few moments to compose some parting thoughts.

    …. My personal and political character was formed in a different era that was kinder, if not necessarily gentler.

    … In democratic government, elected officials do not have power. They hold power — in trust for the people who elected them. If they misuse or abuse that public trust, it is quite properly revoked (the quicker the better).

    It’s a good read. On Congress’s power to legislate for the common good.

  2. 2
    Baud says:

    Please note: All of these challenges were addressed by Congress. Maybe not as fast as we wanted, or as perfectly as hoped. The work is certainly not finished. But we’ve made progress — and in every case, from the passage of Medicare through the passage of civil rights, we did it with the support of Democrats and Republicans who considered themselves first and foremost to be Americans.

    This is the most important thing. We must win the presidency back in 2020, but we need to jettison the cult of the presidency as the primary instrument of domestic policy.

  3. 3

    @Baud: And the current President, while we are at it.

  4. 4
    Elizabelle says:

    I am proud of our newly elected Congress, and happy that Dingell got to see the House returned to Nancy Smash Pelosi’s capable hands. That has to have been comforting.

    This one believes in its duties of responsible legislation and serious oversight.

    Facebook informs me Jimmy Carter has won a Grammy for spoken word album. I am so happy he has survived and is still among us.

  5. 5
    Yarrow says:


    we need to jettison the cult of the presidency as the primary instrument of domestic policy

    Yep. Someone yesterday suggested that if the Dem wins the presidency they should put all the other candidates in their cabinet. I disagree with that. We need excellent Senators and Congressional representatives. All those good people don’t need to be in the cabinet. Co-equal branch of government, bitches. Own it.

  6. 6
    WaterGirl says:

    @Elizabelle: Jimmy Carter seems to have 9 lives, at least as far as I can tell. And that makes me quite happy.

  7. 7
    Elizabelle says:

    @WaterGirl: I hope he lives well into his 100s. Rosalyn too.

  8. 8
    Amir Khalid says:

    The next Democratic POTUS would probably not consider the Green Party and Republican nominees they ran against fit for any post in their Cabinet.
    ETA: I see I misunderstood your post.

  9. 9
    Jeffro says:

    Dingell was fantastic and wow, what a way to go.

    Now then…I wanna hear more about The Meatball’s (Matt Whitaker’s) involvement with pardon-planning going on at the WH and DOJ. That last question at the Congressional hearings was a doozy. Bring him back, Rep Nadler!

  10. 10
    Yarrow says:

    @Amir Khalid: Yeah, maybe my comment wasn’t very clear. The other comments were about the Dem pres putting all the D primary opponents in the cabinet.

  11. 11
    trollhattan says:

    Am sad that John Dingell will receive 1/1000 of the adulation of John McCain, and if you flip those values you’ll also approximate the respective good they did for our country.

    Regardless, we know of your good deeds and thank you, sir. R.I.P.

  12. 12
    Amir Khalid says:

    Still, it was momentarily amusing to think about a Secretary Jill Stein.

  13. 13
    Ohio Mom says:

    I am still trying to digest that he dictated that on the day he died of cancer — he was able to think that clearly?

    It’s an important message, and I’m sure it is all things he’d thought about often. He really must have loved this country to spend some of his few last moments on us instead of his family. I am humbled.

  14. 14
    Suzanne says:

    Watching the Grammys, and Michelle O was one of the show openers.

    I’m not sure it’s possible for me to stan harder for her than I do.

  15. 15
    Baud says:

    @Suzanne: Crowd loved her too.

  16. 16
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    John Dingell, Walter Jones, Frank Robinson, Albert Finney — we’ve had some serious losses over the last few days. And isn’t it just a bitch and a half that, what with all the political turmoil going on, we* mostly haven’t given these guys nearly the attentive tributes they deserve.

    *By “we,” I don’t mean BJ. I mean the Interweb Commentariat Twitterverse in general.

  17. 17
    FlyingToaster says:

    @Yarrow: I’m pretty sure that Pete Buttigeg (No, I don’t know how to either spell or say it) would be great in the Cabinet. So would Stacey Abrams, if she wants it (though I saw her bucket list, DC isn’t on it). Any number of DNC functionaries (Perez, Castro, yadda yadda yadda) would do well, as some like Perez have done before, and you could probably pick through some safe state offices in CA or MA as well.

    However, if you’re spending time on Cable Shows while not in or running for office, you can’t be in the Cabinet. That Lieberman* taint don’t wash off.

    *The most dangerous place on earth? Between Joe Lieberman and a camera…

  18. 18
    Jay says:


    It depends if they are filming the beating live or not,

  19. 19
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Ohio Mom:

    He had probably been thinking about it and writing it in his head for some time. A terminal cancer diagnosis rarely comes out of nowhere, and he was already in his 90s.

  20. 20
    Suzanne says:


    I’m pretty sure that Pete Buttigeg (No, I don’t know how to either spell or say it)

    It’s pronounced “Buddha-judge”. And is not spelled that way. Oi.

  21. 21
    SFAW says:


    It’s pronounced “Buddha-judge”

    Is he one of THOSE people who insist that GIF is pronounced like a certain brand of peanut butter? [And before any jackals tell me that the alleged creator of the GIF* format pronounces it that way: he probably also pronounces “negotiate” as if it has an “s” in the middle. Eff him.]

    * It’s “Graphics,” not “Giraffe-ics.”

  22. 22
    Ohio Mom says:

    @Mnemosyne: I read someplace Dingall was diagnosed with prostrate cancer last year and had decided against treatment, so yes, he and his family were not surprised when he started failing.

    Also yes, the content of the essay was observations and ideas he’d had to been thinking about for years — he very well might have used much of the wording before, in speeches or other written pieces.

    It’s just not the picture I usually have of someone in hospice in their last hours, dictating a very cogent letter to the entire country.

  23. 23

    @SFAW: Gibbet is pronounced with a soft g and gibbon with a hard g. Give is pronounced with a hard g and gin with a soft g. If you’re trying to extrapolate English pronunciation from the spellings of words, you’re probably gonna be wrong at least 25% of the time, and that goes double for words involving the letter “g”.

  24. 24
    Suzanne says:

    @SFAW: I have no idea about that. All’s I know is that I originally thought it was more like “butt-a-gig”.

    He first crossed my radar when I went to the DNC Future Forum when it was here in Phoenix. I found him very impressive then, and I still do. I don’t think he should be president at this point, but I do hope he has a bright future in politics.

  25. 25
    Duane says:

    As big as Dingell’s head was, I always figured he had a big brain, too. I was right. Thank you and RIP John Dingell.

  26. 26
    satby says:

    @SFAW: @Suzanne: He’s had a lot of fun with people trying to pronounce his name.

    Edited to add: He’s also going to be on Colbert Thursday.

  27. 27
    SFAW says:


    Gibbet is pronounced with a soft g and gibbon with a hard g.

    Yes, and the tough coughs as he ploughs the dough. Be that as it may, the “g” in the abbreviation comes from a word with an initial hard “g,” not a soft “g”; I think whatsisname who insists it’s a “j” sound is just trolling the world. Either that, or he’s a moron.

  28. 28
    SFAW says:


    He’s had a lot of fun with people trying to pronounce his name.

    If he had any sense of humor, he’d tell people it’s actually pronounced “Throat Wobbler Mangrove.”

  29. 29
    SFAW says:

    Re: John Dingell: one of my twitter heroes, and a great public servant.

    The WaPo piece that he wrote had some asshole one-note commenter who harped on how terrible Dingell was because he carried the automakers’ water, etc., etc. Regarding that commenter, the Germans (I think — maybe Amir can help with my German here) have an expression: Fuck that guy.

    Even at 92, Rep. Dingell is gone too soon

  30. 30
    Yutsano says:

    @SFAW: Well “fuck” is fick auf Deutsch, but Fick das Mann doesn’t look quite right.

  31. 31
    SFAW says:


    Well “fuck” is fick auf Deutsch,

    Ja, das weiss ich. Es war ein Spass.

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