As long as I can remember Rep. John Dingell, D-MI, was one of the toughest committee chairmen in the Congress. His father preceded him in U.S. Congress during the Great Depression. I had the pleasure of visiting with him one day while Republicans controlled the Congress. He made it clear he was staying around because he again wanted to be a committee chairman.
Now that Democrats have added many liberals to their ranks, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-CA, challenged Mr. Dingell and upended him as Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. For years Mr. Dingell used this committee as a way to help the auto industry but he didn't always agree with them, mind you.
There are classic exchanges between Mr. Dingell and executives of the auto industry which will always remain in the annals of Congressional lore. Mr. Dingell represented blue-collar Michigan. Mr. Waxman represents Hollywood. An extreme environmentalist despite the evidence to the contrary, he is full speed ahead on global warming.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, claimed she was neutral in the Dingell-Waxman contest. Reliable sources said she twisted arms in favor of Mr. Waxman. She hated Mr. Dingell's independence. In the end, Mr. Waxman won; the vote was 137 to 122.
This is a signal. There has been all of this speculation that President-elect Barack Obama has to govern as a moderate. Don't you believe it. With an activist leftist like Mr. Waxman winning in the Democrat caucus, it is clear this is Mr. Obama's preference.
Had the president-elect, with his strong mandate, indicated he needed Mr. Dingell to help govern as a moderate, he would have prevailed. Right now the president-elect has that kind of credibility. John Dingell became the first sacrificial lamb of the move to the left.
It is clear, he will govern not as a moderate but as a clear cut leftist. Some issues he may put off. He doesn't want to get off on the wrong foot they way both Presidents Carter and Clinton did when they had a heavily Democratic Congress. When he does select policy options, they are going to be the furthest left he feels he can go.
Think about it. He relied on the hard left for his early victories in his run against a variety of Democrats. Later when it came down to the race against Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., she moved to the right and he again depended on the left to carry him to victory. From the very beginning, the left were his dependable friends.
He hung around with sixties-radical Bill Ayers and attended a church for 20 years where the pastor preached a Black version of liberation theology. He has a comfort zone with the left. He understands them. They understand him.
The big question is this. What of the so called Blue Dogs. These are Democrats who ran as moderates and even conservatives. If they are for real, they will work with Republicans to defeat the leftist challenge. If, on the other hand, they ran as one thing but, when push comes to shove, they will support the present leadership that ought to be a major issue.
Years ago Rep. Joe Waggoner, D-LA, had an organization comparable to the Blue Dogs. He had around 45 members he could absolutely count on. His count went as high as 82 on some votes. I worked with Mr. Waggoner in putting victorious coalitions together.
The same would be even more possible today because back then a sizeable part of the GOP caucus was liberal. Those members would not vote with conservatives.
But there were just enough conservative Republicans. And when combined with Waggoner's Democrats, these members could drive the administration crazy.
If I am correct and Mr. Obama tilts left, it will be a real test to see if the Blue Dogs are for real again.