FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Down on Motor Vehicle Safety

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.

More articles by:

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

Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Robert Fisk
The Parasitic Relationship Between Power and the American Media
Stephen Cooper
When Will Journalism Grapple With the Ethics of Interviewing Mentally Ill Arrestees?
Jill Richardson
A War on Science, Morals and Law
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Evaggelos Vallianatos
It’s Not Easy Being Greek
Nomi Prins 
The Inequality Gap on a Planet Growing More Extreme
John W. Whitehead
Know Your Rights or You Will Lose Them
David Swanson
The Abolition of War Requires New Thoughts, Words, and Actions
J.P. Linstroth
Primates Are Us
Bill Willers
The War Against Cash
Jonah Raskin
Doris Lessing: What’s There to Celebrate?
Ralph Nader
Are the New Congressional Progressives Real? Use These Yardsticks to Find Out
Binoy Kampmark
William Blum: Anti-Imperial Advocate
Medea Benjamin – Alice Slater
Green New Deal Advocates Should Address Militarism
John Feffer
Review: Season 2 of Trump Presidency
Frank Clemente
The GOP Tax Bill is Creating Jobs…But Not in the United States
Rich Whitney
General Motors’ Factories Should Not Be Closed. They Should Be Turned Over to the Workers
Christopher Brauchli
Deported for Christmas
Kerri Kennedy
This Holiday Season, I’m Standing With Migrants
Mel Gurtov
Weaponizing Humanitarian Aid
Thomas Knapp
Lame Duck Shutdown Theater Time: Pride Goeth Before a Wall?
George Wuerthner
The Thrill Bike Threat to the Elkhorn Mountains
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Selfhood and Her Ability to Act in the Public Domain: Resilience of Nadia Murad
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
On the Killing of an Ash Tree
Graham Peebles
Britain’s Homeless Crisis
Louis Proyect
America: a Breeding Ground for Maladjustment
Steve Carlson
A Hell of a Time
Dan Corjescu
America and The Last Ship
Jeffrey St. Clair
Booked Up: the 25 Best Books of 2018
December 13, 2018
John Davis
What World Do We Seek?
Subhankar Banerjee
Biological Annihilation: a Planet in Loss Mode
Lawrence Davidson
What the Attack on Marc Lamont Hill Tells Us
James McEnteer
Breathless
Ramzy Baroud
The Real Face of Justin Trudeau: Are Palestinians Canada’s new Jews?
Dean Baker
Pelosi Would Sabotage the Progressive Agenda With a Pay-Go Rule
Elliot Sperber
Understanding the Yellow Vests Movement Through Basic Color Theory 
Rivera Sun
The End of the NRA? Business Magazines Tell Activists: The Strategy is Working
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Historic Opportunity to Transform Trade
December 12, 2018
Arshad Khan
War, Anniversaries and Lessons Never Learned
Paul Street
Blacking Out the Yellow Vests on Cable News: Corporate Media Doing its Job
Kenneth Surin
The Brexit Shambles Rambles On
David Schultz
Stacking the Deck Against Democracy in Wisconsin
Steve Early
The Housing Affordability Crisis and What Millennials Can do About It
George Ochenski
Collaboration Failure: Trump Trashes Sage Grouse Protections
Rob Seimetz
Bringing a Life Into a Dying World: A Letter From a Father to His Unborn Son
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail