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CBS "Face the Nation with Bob Schieffer" - Transcript - "Face the Nation" Flashback


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SCHIEFFER: On Friday Michigan Congressman John Dingell became the longest-serving member of Congress in history, a record of 57 years, five months and 26 days, more than one-quarter of the years that Congress has existed. That is our "Face the Nation" flashback.

SCHIEFFER (voice over): Dingell came to Congress in 1955 when Dwight Eisenhower was president.

(on camera): I want to ask you, a little bit, about, as you look back on those years, how many presidents?

DINGELL: Eleven presidents and 11 speakers I served with -- not under.


SCHIEFFER: You'll notice I may -- I did not say that you served under.

DINGELL: I knew you're a wise head, but some folks do.


SCHIEFFER: As you look back on it, who were you favorites?

DINGELL: Well, if you look, you'll see there's a picture signed "To John Dingell, Franklin Delano Roosevelt." I didn't serve with him, but he was to me right after God. He'd speak, as you'll remember, to the fireside chats. Everything in the country stopped; people wanted to listen to him. And he had that wonderful speaking style. And after him, I think Truman...


DINGELL: ... who is -- who is an extraordinary guy who had the remarkable ability to simplify enormously complex questions into a simple yes or no.

SCHIEFFER: And what about LBJ?

DINGELL: He was a tremendous president. There was only one thing that destroyed LBJ, and that was Vietnam. And probably at the bottom of that was his ego because he was, I think, very much afraid that people were going to say, "Who lost Vietnam?" Johnson didn't know how to defend against that, so he stayed and kept raising the ante in Vietnam, and it cost us a huge number of lives and an awful lot of money.

SCHIEFFER: But he also passed the Civil Rights bills?

DINGELL: That was, I think, one of the great pieces of legislation in history because we eliminated discrimination against deserving, decent American people. I almost lost an election over that, and I've had to go around and say "Now, I want you to explain to me why it is that a black man or woman should not be able to vote if they're a citizen when an American who happens to be a white man or woman can vote? And people responded.

SCHIEFFER: But, you know, when you look back in those days, those were the days of these great across-the-aisle relationships. I mean, I don't think there's any question Lyndon Johnson could not have passed that without Everett Dirksen, the Republican leader.

DINGELL: You're a wise man, my friend, Bob. The answer is he could not. And the interesting thing is that Dirksen and LBJ talked. They're friends. You don't find that now. And it's -- it is hurting the institution; it's hurting the country; it's hurting our Congress; and it's -- it's keeping us from making progress. Because now everybody thinks we've got to fight. They send you down here to fight, and the media sends you down here to fight. And they put the five, 10, 15-second soundbites on where people are denouncing somebody or saying something bad about somebody. And now we have a situation where people will shout at the president during a State of the Union message, "Liar," or call a member of his White House press staff a "paid liar." You know, that's not the way it should be done.

SCHIEFFER: Do you think that you could pass the 1964 Civil Rights bill today?


DINGELL: I've said the other day I wasn't sure we could pass the Ten Commandments in this place. Money has become a curse in this place because everybody's chasing money all the time, and the result -- and that's true in the Senate, too. And the result of this is that the place is simply locked up. And -- and -- and we have people who come in here that don't have the vaguest idea how the place works; they don't know where the restroom is, but all of a sudden, they're on the floor making a great big speech and they're talking to their press manager about what's the statement they're going to issue today, when -- when they ought to be sitting down and talking with the other side and working out the problems that we confront.

(voice over): His proudest moment was the vote he cast for that 1964 Civil Rights bill. His greatest regret?

DINGELL: There was one vote that I have regretted ever since I made it, and that was the vote I made on the Gulf of Tonkin resolution.

SCHIEFFER: That is the resolution that gave Lyndon Johnson the green light to go to Vietnam.

DINGELL: I went over to the floor; I got there late; I was going to vote against it. And I got to thinking, you know, Lyndon Johnson is the president; I'm going to help him to do what he thinks ought to be done. Well, it turned out that the information that he had and that we had about that was wrong, and it committed us to Vietnam, which cost us thousands of American lives, untold treasure, vast ill will, which hurt generations of Americans, particularly the guys who went over there honorably to serve their nation. That's what I'm sorry about. There was one that taught me something so that, when the second Bush wanted to go into Iraq, I voted against it because I thought that was a dumb thing, and I didn't think they had the basis for it.

SCHIEFFER: What was your favorite time here?

DINGELL: The first year I was here because I didn't have anything really important to do. I was just...


... just a freshman. All I had to do was to look around and act important. And...


... and that's easy to do. It doesn't take much intelligence. And then, when Lyndon Johnson came, because we began to realize all the things that we wanted to do. Medicare, which was -- which my dad was the first author and which I had introduced every year since, and when I got to preside over the House when we passed Medicare. I've still got the gavel sitting over yonder.

SCHIEFFER: Will Dingell run again? He says he and his wife Debbie will make that decision in January, as they always do in an election year. Our "Face the Nation" flashback.

SCHIEFFER: Well, that's it for us today. Tomorrow on "CBS This Morning," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, plus the latest on Nelson Mandela. We want to thank you for watching "Face the Nation." See ya.

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