The Best Twitter Feed in Congress Belongs to Its Longest-Serving Member

Rep. John Dingell: “Staff has now informed me of what a Kardashian is. I’m only left with more questions.”

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 27: U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) participates in a news conference and rally to mark the 46th anniversary of the passage of Medicare in the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center July 27, 2011 in Washington, DC. The longest currently-serving member of Congress, Dingell wielded the gavel during that historic session of the House of Representatives in 1965.
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Emma Roller
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Emma Roller
July 23, 2014, 1 a.m.

Try­ing to find cre­ativ­ity in con­gres­sion­al of­fices is of­ten like try­ing to find a piña col­ada in Death Val­ley. But one sur­pris­ing mem­ber of Con­gress has be­come a minor celebrity—if only for a few days.

Rep. John Din­gell, who rep­res­ents Michigan’s 12th Dis­trict, is 88 years old. He isn’t the old­est mem­ber of Con­gress—that hon­or goes to out­go­ing Rep. Ral­ph Hall, who is 91—but Din­gell is the longest-serving mem­ber. Ever.

It’s well worth tak­ing five minutes to scroll through Din­gell’s Twit­ter feed. Among his tweets you’ll find a Pho­toshopped im­age of Din­gell par­ody­ing Lebron James’s re­cent Sports Il­lus­trated story. And you can watch Din­gell on You­Tube nav­ig­at­ing Google Glass, look­ing up “dir­ec­tions to a good Chinese res­taur­ant.”

On Monday, Din­gell’s Twit­ter no­tori­ety peaked after he re­spon­ded to an em­bar­rass­ing tweet from the En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency pro­mot­ing Kim Kar­dashi­an’s phone game.

“I’m now a C-List celebrity in Kim Kar­dashi­an: Hol­ly­wood,” someone with keys to EPA’s Of­fice of Wa­ter ac­count wrote in a now-de­leted tweet. “Come join me and be­come fam­ous too by play­ing on iPhone!”

Din­gell’s of­fice re­spon­ded with an age-ap­pro­pri­ate joke. “I’m the last ori­gin­al au­thor of the Clean Wa­ter Act, but I have no idea who/what a Kar­dashi­an is and I rarely play games,” Din­gell tweeted. “You OK, @EPAwa­ter?”

Tweets men­tion­ing Din­gell skyrock­eted on Monday, from about a dozen the day be­fore to more than 2,000, ac­cord­ing to Topsy. But Din­gell’s Twit­ter really took off on Tues­day, with this fol­low-up tweet: “Staff has now in­formed me of what a Kar­dashi­an is. I’m only left with more ques­tions.” That mes­sage has been retweeted more than 1,900 times since Tues­day morn­ing.

So what drives Din­gell’s ac­count? Many mem­bers of Con­gress em­ploy their com­mu­nic­a­tions staff to run their so­cial-me­dia ac­counts. Oth­er mem­bers, like Sen. Claire Mc­Caskill, boast that they write all their own tweets.

Din­gell’s com­mu­nic­a­tions dir­ect­or, Chris­toph­er Schuler, in­sists that he works with Din­gell on the law­maker’s so­cial-me­dia pres­ence. But read­ing through Schuler’s per­son­al Twit­ter feed, it’s easy to see where the sense of hu­mor comes from.

Just 5 per­cent of Twit­ter users are over the age of 65. By com­par­is­on, more than a quarter of House mem­bers are 65 or older. And, par­don my ageism, but I doubt that someone who’s been serving in Con­gress since 1955 has bothered to learn how to em­bed GIFs in a tweet.

It prob­ably helps that Din­gell is fin­ish­ing up his last term in Con­gress be­fore re­tir­ing—his staff can ad­opt a lais­sez-faire com­mu­nic­a­tions strategy without fear of it back­fir­ing. Last year, a con­ser­vat­ive com­ment­at­or re­ferred to Din­gell as “a lib­er­al Grandpa Simpson.” In a tweet last week, Din­gell’s of­fice turned the Simpsons joke on its head.

“We just have fun with it,” Schuler told Na­tion­al Journ­al over email. “He finds it to be a good way to keep in touch with folks back home and en­gage on everything from im­port­ant mat­ters and of­fi­cial busi­ness to just com­ment­ing on De­troit Ti­gers games and Uni­versity of Michigan games (equally im­port­ant, in his opin­ion).”

Of course, it’s not all jokes. Just like oth­er mem­bers of Con­gress, Din­gell’s ac­count tweets out pho­tos of meet­ings with con­stitu­ents and his­tor­ic mo­ments dur­ing his ten­ure. But the lev­ity that gets mixed in­to Din­gell’s ac­count is a wel­come ad­di­tion to the mono­ton­ous stream of bland press re­leases that flow from the Cap­it­ol.

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