Rep. John Dingell of Michigan is stepping down after the longest term in Congress in history. His time in Congress is being celebrated in the media today, and by politicians on both sides of the aisle up to and including President Obama himself, but is it really something we should be happy about?
In an America where it’s fashionable to be cynical about Washington, should we really be happy about someone spending nearly six decades there?
And let me provide some context to that question. Dingell first went to Congress in 1955 after his father died. John Dingell Sr. had served in Congress since before the New Deal, first getting elected in 1933. Now Dingell Jr.’s sixty-year-old wife is widely seen as the person most likely to take over the seat.
If she manages twenty years in Congress – a not unlikely prospect – we’ll have had three members of one family serving in Congress for a century. And it’s not like Debbie is the only candidate for keeping the dynasty going. Dingell Jr.’s son was elected to the Michigan state legislature in his 30’s and current serves as a judge.
Rather than hagiography on the occasion of a father-son team handing a House seat off to the next family member after nearly 80 years of it being in the family, maybe we ought to question why that’s happening in a country that was founded after a revolution that was inspired, at least in part, by rejection of that exact sort of dynastic succession of power.
And I’m not talking about the term limits debate, which is where one’s mind is prone to go in a situation like this. The voters of Michigan could have cast the Dingell’s aside at the ballot box, but they haven’t. And that’s a national problem. Even when Congress measures its collective approval rating in the teens and even single digits, most incumbents get re-elected year after year.
The question isn’t “when do we get term limits,” the question is why are we going to stop voting for the same people over and over again?