Dingell and civility in politics

John Dingell probably would have laughed at President Donald Trump's allusion that Dingell was perhaps "looking up" at the political scene. 

It is no exaggeration to say that of all of the politicians on the scene since 1955 (Dingell's first year in the House of Representatives), nobody knew better than he that politics ain't beanbag.  Crude jokes and allusions are part of the game. 

During one of my two stints as an intern in his offices, Dingell would often jovially announce that he was stopping into the bathroom by saying, "Time to salute the president" (who happened to be Bill Clinton at the time).  He was not above telling what he thought were amusing stories about Ronald Reagan's forgetfulness at the 40th president's expense.

Giving as good as one gets comes in this regard comes with the territory.  Dingell gave as tough as anyone, evidenced by his once tweeting Trump to "please take two running jumps and go to hell." 

In the wake of Trump's quip, all of the pearl-clutching by people who have likened Trump to the worst genocidal murderers and reprobates in the history of the world over a cheap laugh is ridiculous.  Cries for civility by those who have been the most uncivil are hollow indeed and bring to mind the observation made by Christopher Hitchens that "civility is overrated." 

As for Republicans who are similarly overreacting, grow up and seek a cure for Potomac Fever.  The onetime Dean of the House may have been your "dear friend" and "honorable colleague," but he was no angel, nor necessarily worthy of deference.  After all, he loosed John Conyers on the body politic. 

Cheap cracks and cracks like that are one thing.  But let it never be forgotten that John Dingell, on the dime of the American taxpayers, attempted to tell a black civil rights activist to "go home and stay there."

That's right. Dingell commanded the great* Ward Connerly to stay out of Michigan as the latter attempted to campaign for the passage of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative.  In a manner that may have made George Wallace blush, Dingell in no uncertain terms treated Connerly like an uppity negro causing trouble in "his" state, in part writing in a July 9, 2003 letter printed on congressional stationery:

[G]o home and stay there. We do not need you stirring up trouble where none exists.

We have no need for itinerant publicity-seekers, non-resident troublemakers or self-aggrandizing out-of-state agitators. You have created enough mischief in your own state to last a lifetime.

Your brand of divisive racial politics has no place in Michigan, or in our society[.] ... Go home and stay there, you're not welcome here.

What is more offensive and uncivil?  Trump's throwaway joke or the powerful longtime white officeholder telling the black American activist to remember his place?  Where was the left crying about dog whistles, enough of which were contained in that letter to send a dog shelter into full panic? 

It was not enough for Dingell to have a mere policy disagreement with Connerly, or to counter Connerly's arguments in favor of the measure.  Dingell was incapable of this.  His treatment of Connerly is among the worst insults a member of Congress has ever committed against a citizen and should always be mentioned when Dingell's career is discussed as the embodiment of political incivility. 

So the next time some weepy Democrat appears whining about Trump's crassness and incivility with regard to John Dingell, think about who is doing the complaining and on whose behalf.

Matthew May can be reached at may.matthew.t@gmail.com.

*Correction: An earlier version of this piece mistakenly used the word "late" rather than the intended "great."

John Dingell probably would have laughed at President Donald Trump's allusion that Dingell was perhaps "looking up" at the political scene. 

It is no exaggeration to say that of all of the politicians on the scene since 1955 (Dingell's first year in the House of Representatives), nobody knew better than he that politics ain't beanbag.  Crude jokes and allusions are part of the game. 

During one of my two stints as an intern in his offices, Dingell would often jovially announce that he was stopping into the bathroom by saying, "Time to salute the president" (who happened to be Bill Clinton at the time).  He was not above telling what he thought were amusing stories about Ronald Reagan's forgetfulness at the 40th president's expense.

Giving as good as one gets comes in this regard comes with the territory.  Dingell gave as tough as anyone, evidenced by his once tweeting Trump to "please take two running jumps and go to hell." 

In the wake of Trump's quip, all of the pearl-clutching by people who have likened Trump to the worst genocidal murderers and reprobates in the history of the world over a cheap laugh is ridiculous.  Cries for civility by those who have been the most uncivil are hollow indeed and bring to mind the observation made by Christopher Hitchens that "civility is overrated." 

As for Republicans who are similarly overreacting, grow up and seek a cure for Potomac Fever.  The onetime Dean of the House may have been your "dear friend" and "honorable colleague," but he was no angel, nor necessarily worthy of deference.  After all, he loosed John Conyers on the body politic. 

Cheap cracks and cracks like that are one thing.  But let it never be forgotten that John Dingell, on the dime of the American taxpayers, attempted to tell a black civil rights activist to "go home and stay there."

That's right. Dingell commanded the great* Ward Connerly to stay out of Michigan as the latter attempted to campaign for the passage of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative.  In a manner that may have made George Wallace blush, Dingell in no uncertain terms treated Connerly like an uppity negro causing trouble in "his" state, in part writing in a July 9, 2003 letter printed on congressional stationery:

[G]o home and stay there. We do not need you stirring up trouble where none exists.

We have no need for itinerant publicity-seekers, non-resident troublemakers or self-aggrandizing out-of-state agitators. You have created enough mischief in your own state to last a lifetime.

Your brand of divisive racial politics has no place in Michigan, or in our society[.] ... Go home and stay there, you're not welcome here.

What is more offensive and uncivil?  Trump's throwaway joke or the powerful longtime white officeholder telling the black American activist to remember his place?  Where was the left crying about dog whistles, enough of which were contained in that letter to send a dog shelter into full panic? 

It was not enough for Dingell to have a mere policy disagreement with Connerly, or to counter Connerly's arguments in favor of the measure.  Dingell was incapable of this.  His treatment of Connerly is among the worst insults a member of Congress has ever committed against a citizen and should always be mentioned when Dingell's career is discussed as the embodiment of political incivility. 

So the next time some weepy Democrat appears whining about Trump's crassness and incivility with regard to John Dingell, think about who is doing the complaining and on whose behalf.

Matthew May can be reached at may.matthew.t@gmail.com.

*Correction: An earlier version of this piece mistakenly used the word "late" rather than the intended "great."