The Gentleman from Michigan
Congressman John Dingell has seen it all—and increasingly hates what he sees. Some perspective on Washington from one of the last of the wise men.

By Todd S. Purdum

In an election year in which the corrosiveness of politics seems to reach a new high every month, and the bitterness of the G.O.P.-nomination fight a new low with each primary and caucus, I thought it might be instructive to spend a moment with the man who has arguably seen more of politics than anyone else still active in Washington, Representative John D. Dingell of Michigan, the Dean of the House.

Dingell, now 85, is not only the senior sitting member of Congress. Having first been elected in 1955 to fill the seat of his father, who had held it since 1933 and died in office, he is also the longest-serving member of the House in all of American history, and is within 17 months of breaking the late Robert Byrd’s record for total combined congressional service in the House and Senate.

So he’s seen a few elections in his day, and seen more than a few politicians come and go. I went to talk to him the other day about his role in the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act because I’m working on a book project about that bill, widely regarded as one of the great high-water marks of bipartisan political achievement in the 20th century. In the face of implacable opposition from segregationist Southern Democrats, the measure passed only because of strong support from Northern Republicans who saw it, in the words of their Senate leader, Everett M. Dirksen of Illinois, as an idea whose time had come.

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