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Finley: The Dean on how to fix government

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

Looking at a Congress he dominated for six decades, former Rep. John Dingell now sees an institution “reviled by the American people.” 

The Dearborn Democrat says the reason Congress has lost the nation’s trust is that its members refuse to cooperate or compromise, revere partisanship above public service and lick the boots of those who write the checks.

Dingell, 92 and retired for four years, offers an unflinchingly frank view of Washington in his new book, "The Dean, The Best Seat in the House," a combination biography and critique of the nation's current leadership.

John D. Dingell's memoir, "The Dean," comes out in December.

This is not mere armchair quarterbacking from a man who holds the record as the longest-serving congressman in U.S. history.

Dingell is angry, yes, but he well remembers when the government actually functioned, and did so honorably, and is determined to help set it back on course. And while he saves most of his punches for Republicans and President Donald Trump, of whom he famously tweeted "he couldn't pour piss out of a boot if the instructions were printed on the heel," Dingell also heaps plenty of scorn on his own party.

After documenting the many instances throughout his career in which he labored with Republican colleagues and presidents to produce monumental legislation -- including the Clean Water and Endangered Species acts during the Richard Nixon administration -- Dingell offers his thoughts on how to restore integrity and credibility to government and politics.

"Just for a moment," he writes, "Let's imagine the American system we might have if the better angels of our nature were to prevail."

His to-do list:

  • Encourage full participation in elections by automatically registering to vote every American when he or she turns 18. Dingell would get rid of all requirements other than citizenship for casting a ballot. 
  • Eliminating money from political campaigns. "... (E)lected officials should not have to rent themselves out to the highest bidder to get into (or stay in) office." All campaigns, he says, should be publicly financed.
  • Redistributing political representation to better reflect population. Specifically, Dingell cites as unfair that California, with 40 million people, has the same number of senators -- two -- as Wyoming, with a population of 575,000. He'd also eliminate the Electoral College and select presidents by the national popular vote.
  • Protect the free and independent press. Here again Dingell lays heavily into Trump and his ongoing war with the media. But he rightly notes that "The Fourth Estate is not a branch of government, but none of the branches of government can be trusted to function honestly without an unfettered free press vigilantly holding it accountable."  

It's a fine read. Particularly those portions of the book in which Dingell chronicles his Polish ancestors' 19th century immigration to America and their sharecropping to Congress journey. Dingell's dad served 20 years in the House before him. He also recounts his extraordinary experience as a page working the House floor when Franklin Roosevelt gave his Day of Infamy speech. 

If nothing else, "The Dean" is worth the reading time just for its many Dingellisms.  Like this one, delivered to a freshmen class of congressmen:

"For the next six months you're going to wonder how the hell you got here. And then one day you're going to come onto the House floor, look around and wonder how the hell all those other fools got here."


Catch “The Nolan Finley Show” weekdays 7-9 a.m. on 910 AM Superstation.