The contest between Congressmen Dingell and Waxman was seen as competition between Congressional titans, but it wasn't just jockeying for power: the contest had clear implications for policy: whether the US was going to have a realistic energy policy, or remained mired in the past.
Dingell was naturally an enabler of the big three automakers; he came from Dearborn, and he first entered Congress in 1955, when what was good for General Motors was good for the country. His tenure spans the period when bigger was always better, and up-to-date meant longer tailfins. Dingell is more responsible for the weak-kneed CAFE standards than anyone except the CEO's of the three, and the UAW leadership.
Point of disclosure: as a member of the National Writers Union until this month, I was also a member of the UAW, but I wasn't too happy about its energy policy.
Dingell was a reliable liberal war-horse, who fought the good fight for workers' rights, even when those workers were writers. But he was no environmentalist. The auto industry must change; responsible legislation on mileage standards are now imperative and the old warhorse would have stood in the way. The changes are imperative because: the survival of the auto industry demands that it be forced to build cars--and mass transit--that are partial solutions to global warming, not contributors to its worsening. Second, the Three will have to be pushed to produce cars that people need, rather than the muscle cars they have persuaded some Americans to want.
I hope Waxman is as positive towards organized labor as Dingell: positive, but not in bed with. The UAW should not be allowed to control energy legislation, but it should be encouraged to represent all autoworkers, not just the ones in the northern states working for the big three. Why? So that workers are paid well enough that the consumer market has customers who don't have to go into debt to keep the economy going. We know where that leads--to where we are now.
Henry Ford, no lover of unions, first declared that workers needed to be paid enough so they could buy his cars. The credit crash was precipitated by policies that forgot that simple formula, policies going back to Reagan. I hope that when Waxman, Richardson (Secretary of Commerce designee) and President Obama consider how to help the big three, that they remember Ford's dictum; help does not mean cutting autoworkers' wages; it would certainly mean oversight of the ailing companies.
We got what we needed: a critic of the auto industry, not an enabler: Waxman, not Dingell.