Cover image for Rostenkowski : the pursuit of power and the end of the old politics
Rostenkowski : the pursuit of power and the end of the old politics
Cohen, Richard E.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Chicago, Ill. : Ivan R. Dee, [1999]

Physical Description:
311 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
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Format :


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E840.R66 C65 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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This scrupulous political biography of Dan Rostenkowski follows his rise to power from modest origins in the Democratic ward politics of Chicago's Polish northwest side, through his national legislative triumphs, and ultimately to his criminal conviction and imprisonment for abuses of House practice. But the story offers much more than Rostenkowski's personal tragedy: it's a tale of the transformation of American political life, and of the fall of old-fashioned congressional politics. An insider's story. Anybody wanting to understand Congress and its place in American politics should read it. --Jim Wright. Masterful...not just a book on Rostenkowski; Cohen has spun the tale of the entire modern period of Congress. --Larry Sabato

Author Notes

For more than twenty years Richard E. Cohen has reported on Congress for the National Journal, a nonpartisan magazine located in Washington, D.C. A winner of the Dirksen Prize for distinguished reporting on Congress, he lives in McLean, Virginia

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

For one of the most powerful men in the U.S. Congress, Dan Rostenkowski kept a fairly low profile, living in the old neighborhood on the northwest side of Chicago, and appearing infrequently on the TV talk-show circuit. But chairing the House Ways and Means Committee was (and is) a key slot on the Hill, and Rostenkowski was a master at the legislative skills the committee required. Unfortunately, he was also somewhat careless in drawing the line between congressional, political, and personal business (and expenditures). In April 1996, Rostenkowski was sentenced to federal prison on two plea-bargained charges of fraudulent use of government funds. Cohen covers Capitol Hill for the National Journal; he conducted dozens of interviews, including a number with his subject, to produce this nuanced portrait of Rostenkowski, who first went to Washington in 1959, gradually accumulating power there--and in Chicago--before his involuntary retirement in 1995. An appropriate acquisition for larger libraries with active political science collections. --Mary Carroll

Library Journal Review

Big-city machine politics, which made Chicago's Mayor Richard Daley such a dominant force in the Democratic party, had ossified by 1990, helping to destroy the career of his prot‚g‚, Rep. Daniel Rostenkowski, chair of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee from 1981 to 1994. Cohen (Washington at Work), an award-winning correspondent for the National Journal, sympathetically portrays Rostenkowski's long career in the House of Representatives, 1959-94, as a metaphor for the rise and fall of the Democratic control of the lower house. Rosty's Chicago political education, which taught him that there are "no permanent friends, no permanent enemies," served him well as chair of Ways and Means by allowing him to maneuver such important pieces of legislation as the 1986 Tax Reform Bill through Congress. Unfortunately, when political ethics became an important public concern, Rostenkowksi could not change with the times. He was forced to resign from the House in 1994 because he padded his staff with ghost employees, a once-common machine practice. Cohen writes movingly of Rostenkowski's failings. Most of the book, however, is a highly detailed appraisal of Rostenkowski's legislative proceedings and is therefore recommended for larger public and academic collections and congressional policy specialists.ÄKarl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Cohen, long-time reporter for the National Journal, chronicles the rise and fall of Dan Rostenkowsky, one of the most respected yet maligned legislators of the 20th century. Of greater significance than the account of Rosty's career, however, is Cohen's use of the story to examine the transformation of Congress over the last 50 years. A product of Chicago's machine politics, Rostenkowsky was unwilling or unable to adapt to the dramatic changes that occurred during his tenure. As chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, he was the consummate "wheeler dealer." But with time, his means, subjected to internal reform and greater public scrutiny, could no longer justify the ends. His indictment and eventual guilty plea were thus heralded as the death of the old way of doing business in Congress. Cohen warns that this pronouncement may be premature and argues that recent events tend to vindicate Rostenkowsky, pointing to the "chaotic disarray" among House Republicans and Clinton's victory in the impeachment affair. This authoritative, entertaining volume updates classics on congressional power such as Richard Bolling's Power in the House (CH, Dec'68), Richard Fenno's Congressmen in Committees (CH, Jan'74), John Manley's Politics of Finance (CH, Oct'70) and Randall Strahan's New Ways and Means (CH, Dec'90). General readers; all students.. A. C. Titus; University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Table of Contents

Introduction: An Era Endsp. 3
1. The Bungalow Belt and the Machinep. 9
2. Democrats and a Government on the Movep. 34
3. First Bloody Signs of Troublep. 65
4. The New Breed and the Limits of Reformp. 88
5. Mr. Chairman Confronts Mr. Presidentp. 115
6. Wheeling and Dealing to Middle Groundp. 138
7. Clash of Culturesp. 167
8. Erosion of Divided Governmentp. 193
9. Trying to Take Clinton's Handp. 218
10. The System on Trialp. 245
11. The Democrats' Legacyp. 272
Notesp. 289
A Note on Sourcesp. 298
Indexp. 302