THE SPINE SEPTEMBER 4, 2009
The most up-to-date on-line bulletin Congressman Rangel produces for his constituents has a photograph of him being patted on the cheek by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Its latest dated item is August 28. But Rangel is now in such deep doodoo that not even Ms. Pelosi, who has a very high tolerance level for shmootz (see Jason Zengerle's article about Murthaville and John Murtha in the last hard-copy edition of TNR or in this space), will not be showing her affections for Harlem's representative to Congress any time soon. Still, she also can't bring herself to dump him. So she is delaying the whole Rangel scandal for a judgment by the House Ethics Committee, which, of course, is not always known to be direct and honest itself.
Democrats habitually tell themselves that Republicans are the ones who forfeit the public trust, perhaps by dint of character. And there are so many cases of members of Congress (and appointees in the executive branch) who want that Grand Old Party to be a grand old party only for themselves that this partisan skewing of the corrupt seems almost plausible.
But it is not. This endemic corruption is, in fact, perhaps the one part of public life that is truly and lastingly bipartisan.
Murtha probably thought that by taking on President Bush on Iraq that he had immunized himself from the righteous anger of the "good government" types (the goo-goos, as we used to call them). But not even being reflexively anti-war (and hysterically anti-war in the style of Cindy Sheehan, at that) has immunized him from the consequences of his own and his constituents' greed. Well, no longer.
The editorial in the current issue of The New Republic (arriving in the mail in the next days and appearing here soon, look for it) calls on the Democratic leadership, at least, to demote him.
And our lead also argues that Mr. Rangel should be likewise punished. He, in fact, is a case all unto himself.
Please Google him. There is so much of evidence of tax evasion, lying on official income and asset reports, and even more common malfeasance that one wonders how the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee—where all national pecuniary levies are initiated—can even face his colleagues. His behavior seems also to be contagious. Many on his staff seem to imitate his infractions. Moreover, his own defenses should alone disqualify from the chairmanship (and even membership) on the Committee. Rangel has claimed that he didn't understand or even know the rules. In any case, he was very adept at making the rules he could not or, rather, did not want to grasp.
Now, to be sure, he has raised the race card. In doing so he has attempted to drape his serious pecuniary violations of law in the grandeur of Barack Obama and the office of the presidency. Rangel has not quite said that the accusations of tax evasion against him are motivated by racism. So, instead, he has played the race card in accusing the opponents of the health care proposals put forward by the administration of not having "gotten over the fact that Obama is president of the United States." Shorthand, sure, but clear shorthand and quite vicious. Shame!