When Rep. John Dingell took over the Congressional seat held by his father, President Dwight Eisenhower was in his first term in office, "I Love Lucy" was still on television and President Obama hadn't been born yet. On Monday, the Detroit Free Press reported that the nation's longest-serving member of Congress was retiring at the end of this year at the completion of his 29th full term in power.
The length of his career is not something to be celebrated.
Dingell was only able to win a House of Representatives seat in a 1955 special election at 29 years old, because his father, who had died, had held the seat since 1933. He was re-elected over and over again due to the way congressional districts are drawn up and because incumbents have such a huge money and influence advantage that it creates a barrier to entry for any potential challengers.
The United States was created by a revolution against a monarchy, and yet Americans have had an unhealthy obsession with political dynasties. As if the working assumption that Hillary Clinton will be the next Democratic presidential nominee isn't enough, Jeb Bush is increasingly being talked about as one of the leading Republican candidates. And seriously, does anybody believe that Caroline Kennedy is the most qualified person in the country to serve as the ambassador to Japan?
Whatever one thinks of Dingell's liberal politics (he fought for decades to expand social welfare and the regulatory state), it's worth questioning the media's tendency to treat his long career in Washington as some sort of heroic achievement. In reality, it should be seen as a failure of the American political system.
UPDATE: The Huffington Post is reporting that John Dingell's wife is expected to run to succeed him.