Today, the political class celebrates the long career of John Dingell. As of Friday nobody, not even Robert Byrd, will have served longer in either body of Congress. As the media fashions this story, we are expected not only to marvel but to feel gratitude. Whatta guy. Great public servant. Been doing it since Ike was president and a postage stamp cost three cents.
The buried assumption in all these stories about old war-horse members of congress – to include all the gooey stuff about the late Senator Frank Lautenberg, published upon his death earlier this week – is that these guys (they seem, always, to be guys) know how things work, can get things done, understand Washington ... and so forth.
Well, a test of that proposition would be whether or not they are surprised or shocked by anything that goes on in Washington and the government they have done so much to bloat. On that score, they fail just about every time.
Congressman Dingell has done more than a half-century of hard time on Capitol Hill but did he warn the country or the congress about the IRS? Did any of the old bulls? To include Max Baucus who has made the tax code and its enforcement his personal turf.
Having served since the age of steam, these guys are supposed to know where the bodies are buried. Their contacts are vast. Their offices well staffed. Their favor banks stocked and brimming. But they are blind sided by the news that the IRS has been whooping it up at conferences on the taxpayer dime and can't find the receipts? What good, then, is their profound understanding of Washington?
Quick, schedule hearings. Hire more staff.
The government we have is, in big part, the creation of old bulls like Dingell. Inefficient, largely. Corrupt, occasionally. Self aggrandizing, always. Buried in a gooey Washington Post valentine to Dingell is this one throwaway line that says a lot if it does not, indeed, say it all:
His alumni network is as deep and powerful as any on K Street ...
Fifty-seven years in Congress. The man ought to be ashamed of himself.