John Dingell’s Teabag, and Other Tales

I sped through Robert Draper’s new book about the House of Representatives and put the results here. The bits: Decidedly juicy. The conclusions: Incredibly sad. It’s one thing to groan about Congress “not working,” another to see exactly what cripples it. On the Democratic side: Indecision and doubt, both from conservatives who don’t want to push too hard and liberals who think they’ll win if they get the spin juuuuuuust right. On the Republican side: Well, as Draper has it, Republicans who want to compromise are totally unable to bring along their conservatives.


Some of the stuff I had to cut out involved Rep. John Dingell, the Dean of the House – seriously, his scooter has a Michigan license plate with the word DEAN on it – and the ultimate contrast to the “knock the hell outta the place” freshmen. Draper recalls how Dingell’s staff warned him off using the phrase “tea-bagger” before he went on The Daily Show.


After maybe the third or fourth mention of “tea-baggers,” Michael Robbins – Dingell’s chief of staff at the time – finally spoke up.

“Sir,” he said carefully, “do you know what that actually means?”

By the look on Dingell’s face, it was clear that he did not.

Because Mr. Dingell was hard of hearing, Robbins knew that he would have to speak loudly and enunciate. Well, sir, I guess you could say it’s a kind of sex act, when a man places his testicles on the face of another person…

One of the four other staffers in the room turned the color of a fire engine.

Then, from the old man: “Ha!”

Followed by: “That’s disgusting.”

Followed by: “But it’s funny, and I’m going to keep using it.”

Later, Dingell is asked by Steny Hoyer to vote “present” on the Republican Study Committee’s mega-draconian budget, to embarass Paul Ryan. “That’s a pussy vote,” says Dingell.