I don’t know how many Americans will note the death of former Chicago Congressman Dan Rostenkowski, but it comes at a symbolically ominous moment for Democrats, who are already trying to beat back a Republican narrative about corruption on Capitol Hill. As House Ways and Means chairman, Rosty was a jowly titan of the 1980s Democratic House, the kind of guy who made lunch at the Palm famous, until he was toppled (and later imprisoned) for having used his perch for (often remarkably petty: free lawn moving?) personal gain. After symbolizing Democratic power, Rosty came to symbolize the corruption of the House Democratic machine, and his 1994 indictment and resignation certainly turbo-charged the Republican takeover of Congress that fall.
Lately Republicans had already been trying to liken Rosty to another heavyweight Democratic Ways and Means chairman facing ethics charges, Charlie Rangel, and perhaps the two men will be similarly remembered. At a minimum, it’s fascinating to watch this 1994 ABC News clip of Rangel commenting on Rostenkowski’s troubles.