Rostenkowski on Politics 101

“The game is compromise. That’s politics.”
-Dan Rostenkowski

This month The Atlantic published an article titled “How American Politics Went Insane,” diagnosing the cause of the pervasive political disintegration in Washington, D.C. as “chaos syndrome.” Joining the choir of complaints about the chaos undermining American politics, the author, Jonathan Rauch, offers a new tune: “Our most pressing political problem today is that the country abandoned the establishment, not the other way around.”

Rauch contends that in the course of reforming politics to weed out corruption, the process of drafting legislation was critically obstructed. Calling the term party leaders” “an anachronism,” Rauch blames the increased regulation of what he calls “middlemen” for the evident loss of enforceable norms within our government.

Rauch defines “middlemen” as those players who held politicians accountable to one another and the party. The most effective encouraged “coordination, inter-dependency, and mutual accountability.”

A man who exemplifies the party “middleman” was Dan Rostenkowski. During his 30-year career as a congressman, Rostenkowski was one of the most influential legislators in Washington due to his exceptional ability to forge compromise across party lines.

This footage from 1981 shows Rostenkowski, as House Democratic Chief Deputy Whip, orienting freshmen House Representatives (including future Chicago Mayor Harold Washington), and urging the importance of party coordination and accountability.

“We will try to give you, if you need the excuse for supporting legislation, to give you the excuse for supporting it.”

This footage comes from the 1981 documentary Rostenkowski, produced and directed by Tom Weinberg, with Skip Blumberg, Judy Shoemaker and Elon Soltes. Watch the full documentary at



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