The Washington Post wasn’t hiding its sadness on the occasion of liberal Rep. John Dingell’s retirement on Tuesday. “Legislative giant leaving a changed Congress” was the front-page headline.
Reporters Karen Tumulty and Paul Kane lamented the days of the old committee barons making (liberal) legislation happen. They warmly remembered how Dingell terrified anyone who received a subpoena from his committee:
In the 1980s, the prospect of a subpoena from his headline-grabbing investigative subcommittee was so terrifying that some Washington law firms built a specialty practice that the newspaper American Lawyer dubbed “the Dingell bar.”
Not everyone loved that. The Wall Street Journal editorial page crusaded against Dingell. When Dingell lost his powerful committee post to ultraliberal Henry Waxman in 2008, the Journal recounted that “At Energy and Commerce in the 1980s and early 1990s, Mr. Dingell would burn the paint off the committee room walls with his interrogations of energy, insurance and drug company executives.” The Post thought this was great, quoting the National Journal as quipping that Dingell’s purview was “anything that moves, burns or is sold.”
But this was the Post’s gushing introduction:
In the arc of Rep. John D. Dingell’s storied legislative career, it is easy to discern the fading trajectory of power in Washington over the past six decades.
He was the last of the true committee barons, one who muscled for legislative turf and who had been known to pound his gavel so hard it shattered.
There was something a bit buried in this article, though, an acknowledgement that for all the venom that the liberal media has sprayed on Tea Party upstarts, the Democrats have also had an ideologically charged and impatient flock of new members unwilling to wait their turn to force change.
Dingell was shoved aside because a new wave of liberal, activist lawmakers, elected in 2006 and 2008, viewed him as an obstacle to climate-change legislation and other measures that he opposed on behalf of his constituents — and the industries that employ them — in the industrial Midwest.
He also found himself increasingly out of step with many of his Democratic colleagues in other -areas, including gun control. -Dingell was once a National Rifle Association board member.
Yet on other issues, Dingell is an ardently old-style liberal. His most cherished cause was expanding health care coverage, which came to fruition with the passage of the Affordable Care Act....
Starting in the 1990s, however, power among House Democrats began shifting toward those who represented the liberal coasts — among them, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.).
Her rivalry with Dingell was such that when redistricting forced him into a primary race against another incumbent Democrat in 2002, Pelosi backed his opponent, Rep. Lynn Rivers. -Dingell, however, won handily.
But the committee system from which he derived his power was fraying, as clout and leverage moved into the suites of the House speaker and the Senate majority leader. And even they now lack the ability to control unruly junior members, whose allegiance is bound more to ideology than party discipline.