Raw footage from the 1981 documentary "Rostenkowski," a portrait of House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski, a powerful figure in Chicago (and national) politics. Election day, 1980. Rostenkowski is interviewed in his office. He discusses: his role as Democratic Whip; how he gained power in the House; the similarities between inner city politics and politics in the U.S. South; the four most important committees in the House; his decision to come home every weekend; and his decision to raise his children in Chicago rather than Washington D.C.
00:00Copy video clip URL Color bars.
01:21Copy video clip URL Cut to close-up of Rostenkowski at his desk, awaiting another question from Weinberg.
01:27Copy video clip URL Weinberg asks Rostenkowski about his political power, where it comes from, and how Rostenkowski uses and views it. In a very calm and serious tone, the Congressman responds to the question by saying, “I think that most people that make a judgment of me won’t say things that I’m willing to say. If I think somebody is filibustering, but doesn’t realize he’s filibustering, I’m one that will send him a note and say, you know, let’s get on with this. Now, all I want to do is be able to get a consensus and work out a piece of legislation to the best of my ability.” Rostenkowski then goes on to talk about an instance in which he was going to lose a certain bill because it wasn’t an achievable task to accomplish. He then goes on to say, “I think if there’s one attribute that I enjoy it’s that if I say I’m gonna do something I try and do it.” “Being the Whip is probably why I get credited with this. I’m, you know, in the leadership rung on the ladder, I’m probably the lowest, and you’ll always find that people will come in and complain to you and will want you to reflect their complaint, but they don’t want to be identified with the complaint, and I do it. And, you know like the Chinese messenger, maybe they’ll cut the hand off, but at least I do it!” Rostenkowski then goes on to explore the notion as to why an individual in Congress takes a certain stance on an issue, and where his own judgment comes into play when dealing with that individual’s position.
06:32Copy video clip URL Weinberg makes a point about Rostenkowski’s power and strength in Washington. Rostenkowski responds to the comment by bringing up an instance in which that power may have been displayed. “I guess the most visible action on my part was with Jim Wright, when Jim Wright ran for majority leader. I talked him into it. I brought him to Chicago. I had him talk with Daley.” “I guess I’m credited with that, but I think that it’s a little bit of an exaggeration. I’m just, I’m lucky.” Rostenkowski then explains his theory as to why and how he has become so involved with a variety of issues in Washington and Chicago. “My theory is, you know, and I started this very early in my political career, if you try to spread yourself out so that you’re not really thin, but you’re exposed to as many people that are moving, when lightning strikes, you might not get the whole bolt, but you’ll get a bit of the shock, and that’ll keep you moving.” Rostenkowski then talks about the advantages he had at the beginning of his political career and the political process in Washington.
13:31Copy video clip URL Weinberg makes a comment about Rostenkowski only missing less than twenty weekends in Chicago in his twenty-two year career. Rostenkowski responds by talking a little bit about his family and how they came into play in his choosing to commute to Washington. In a very warm manner and an excess of smiles, he talks a little bit about his wife, his children, and how they have benefited from living in the Midwest. In a matter of seconds after affectionately talking about his family, Rostenkowski coughs, rids himself of his smile, and gruffly says, “That’s all.”
15:32Copy video clip URL Tape ends.