The Perils of High Public Office

CBS News has dug up some video of Rep. Dan Rostenkowski being chased down the street by a crowd of angry seniors. This event took place twenty years ago next Monday — August 17, 1989.

Here’s Rostenkowski starting at 1:35 in the video:

Rostenkowski: I don’t think they understand what the government’s trying to do for them.

Reporter: Do you sympathize with their anger on this?

Rostenkowski: No, I don’t think they understand what’s going on.

As this book makes clear, Rostenkowski was comfortably within the mainstream of Congresssional and elite media opinion in dismissing the objections of his constituents as uninformed, ill-founded, or rabble-rousing. But, the day had long-term consequences. As the New York Times observed in a 2002 article, “the television images of Mr. Rostenkowski under assault struck fear in the hearts of politicians that remains to this day. Few want to be pitted against older people on issues involving Medicare. ‘Politicians were traumatized by the Rostenkowski episode and they remain traumatized,’ said Henry J. Aaron, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.”

I devote a few pages of my book on Medicare to the subject.

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