FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Down on Motor Vehicle Safety

by RALPH NADER

Congressman John Dingell (D-MI), the longest serving member of Congress in history (59 years), did much good and much bad. Reports of his retirement stressed his work in championing Medicare, civil rights legislation, and several environmental laws. Less noticed was his vigorous oversight and investigations of federal departments and agencies that were lax, riven with conflicts of interest, or mistreated whistle-blowers.

But Dingell had another, darker side to his otherwise liberal image. He was totally and cruelly indentured to the auto industry even though he was from an overwhelmingly safe Democratic district. More than any other lawmaker, Democratic or Republican, he fought to make sure that the auto Goliaths got their way in Congress and at the EPA and the Department of Transportation.

I observed his tenacity in delaying the issuance of the life-saving airbag standard, in opposing noxious emission controls on motor vehicles and, most irrationally, in freezing fuel-efficiency rules for many years. He did this with sheer stubborn willpower and by forging a mutually destructive alliance between the Big Three auto companies – GM, Ford, and Chrysler –and the United Auto Workers (UAW).

In the greatest ironies of his lengthy career, he helped mightily in sheltering the technological stagnation of Detroit’s auto barons from innovation-advancing regulation that eventually cost them massive market share to more fuel efficient and higher quality foreign imports from Germany and Japan. This also cost the UAW tens of thousands of jobs.

When, in recent years, the domestic auto industry’s demise was finally clear to him, he began to relent on fuel efficiency but it was too late to save the industry from its own mismanagement and illusions.

The resultant impact on the health and safety of the American people was his most lasting devastating legacy. Year after year people breathed more vehicle emissions and lost their lives or were injured in less safe vehicles because of Mr. Dingell’s huge presence on Capitol Hill. He upset the balance in his Party and thereby made his Republican colleagues more powerful in their opposition to updating health and safety rules.

At his retirement announcement, Mr. Dingell described service in the Congress these days as “obnoxious” because of “the acrimony and the bitterness,” and the lack of productivity. Back in the 1970s and after he took over the chair of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee in 1981 from the retiring great Congressman John Moss (D-CA), I and other consumer advocates experienced his “obnoxious” and exclusionary dictatorial regime laced with exceedingly foul language directed to anyone who dared criticize him from the civic community.

Congressman Dingell knows politics, however. He is keeping his seat in the family. His wife Deborah Dingell will announce her candidacy to replace him very shortly and is considered a shoo-in. At age 60, she could complete a full century of Dingells by 2033 – John Dingell’s father, a New Deal liberal and advocate of universal Medicare, was elected in 1933.

Deborah Dingell, a former GM lobbyist, is an irreverent soul, even chiding her often grumpy husband at public dinners when he did not hide his disdain for people in attendance. She may surprise us yet by tying her experience in politics, her contacts with high-ranking Democrats, and her independent personality to some good works.

Asked this week by The Washington Post whether the condition in Congress “is fixable,” he replied fundamentally: “There’s only one person that can fix it, and there’s only one group of people that can answer that question, and that’s the voters. If they want it to change, it will change.”

Yes, Congressman Dingell, it will change, but only if we have a more competitive democracy with more choices of candidates and more voices for the voters.

(See www.competitivedemocracy.org and www.ballot-access.org for more information.) Party and candidate dynasties are not compatible with democratic elections.

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition.

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

More articles by:
May 26, 2016
Paul Craig Roberts
The Looting Stage of Capitalism: Germany’s Assault on the IMF
Pepe Escobar
Hillary Clinton: A Major Gold-Digging Liability
Sam Pizzigati
America’s Cosmic Tax Gap
Ramzy Baroud
Time to End the ‘Hasbara’: Palestinian Media and the Search for a Common Story
José L. Flores
Wall Street’s New Man in Brazil: The Forces Behind Dilma Rousseff’s Impeachment
Patrick Cockburn
The Battle of Fallujah: ISIS Unleashes Its Death Squads
John Feffer
The Coming Drone Blowback
Alex Ray
The Death Toll in Syria: What Do the Numbers Really Say?
Richard Pithouse
We Shall be the Prey and the Vulture
Binoy Kampmark
Trump and the Polls of Loathing
Manuel E. Yepe
A Cruise Ship Without Tourists Arrives in Havana
Jack Rasmus
Greek Debt Negotiations: Will the IMF Exit the Troika?
Ajamu Nangwaya
Pan-Africanism, Feminism and Finding Missing Pan-Africanist Women
Howard Lisnoff
Israel, a Palestinian State and Anti-Semitism
May 25, 2016
Eric Draitser
Obama in Hiroshima: A Case Study in Hypocrisy
Ryan Mallett-Outtrim
Does Venezuela’s Crisis Prove Socialism Doesn’t Work?
Dan Arel
The Socialist Revolution Beyond Sanders and the Democratic Party
Marc Estrin
Cocky-Doody Politics and World Affairs
Sam Husseini
Layers of Islamophobia: Do Liberals Care That Hillary Returned “Muslim Money”?
Susan Babbitt
Invisible in Life, Invisible in Death: How Information Becomes Useless
Mel Gurtov
Hillary’s Cowgirl Diplomacy?
Kathy Kelly
Hammering for Peace
Dick Reavis
The Impeachment of Donald Trump
Wahid Azal
Behind the Politics of a Current Brouhaha in Iran: an Ex-President Ayatollah’s Daughter and the Baha’is
Jesse Jackson
Obama Must Recommit to Eliminating Nuclear Arms
Colin Todhunter
From the Green Revolution to GMOs: Living in the Shadow of Global Agribusiness
Binoy Kampmark
Turkey as Terror: the Role of Ankara in the Brexit Referendum
Dave Lindorff
72-Year-Old Fringe Left Candidate Wins Presidency in Austrian Run-Off Election
May 24, 2016
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
The Financial Invasion of Greece
Jonathan Cook
Religious Zealots Ready for Takeover of Israeli Army
Ted Rall
Why I Am #NeverHillary
Mari Jo Buhle – Paul Buhle
Television Meets History
Robert Hunziker
Troika Heat-Seeking Missile Destroys Greece
Judy Gumbo
May Day Road Trip: 1968 – 2016
Colin Todhunter
Cheerleader for US Aggression, Pushing the World to the Nuclear Brink
Jeremy Brecher
This is What Insurgency Looks Like
Jonathan Latham
Unsafe at Any Dose: Chemical Safety Failures from DDT to Glyphosate to BPA
Binoy Kampmark
Suing Russia: Litigating over MH17
Dave Lindorff
Europe, the US and the Politics of Pissing and Being Pissed
Matt Peppe
Cashing In at the Race Track While Facing Charges of “Abusive” Lending Practices
Gilbert Mercier
If Bernie Sanders Is Real, He Will Run as an Independent
Peter Bohmer
A Year Later! The Struggle for Justice Continues!
Dave Welsh
Police Chief Fired in Victory for the Frisco 500
May 23, 2016
Conn Hallinan
European Union: a House Divided
Paul Buhle
Labor’s Sell-Out and the Sanders Campaign
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail