- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 28, 2010

OPINION/ANALYSIS:

‘Tis the holiday season - a time to reflect on all that we have been blessed with here in America. And with those blessings, also the great responsibilities bestowed upon us, each according to the role our Creator has endowed. That paragon of virtues, the U.S. House of Representatives, will return to complete its unfinished business soon.

One piece of such business the entire chamber, both Democrats and Republicans, is dreading. For when the House reconvenes, it must publicly punish Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat, for the several criminal acts he committed against the institution and his colleagues.

The technical term for this punishment is a “censure.” To the average American however, Mr. Rangel may appear to be getting off with nothing more than a slap on the wrist. Think about it - any other individual who concealed shady business deals, evaded paying taxes, and used his elective office to advance his own fame and fortune would be behind bars by now. But Congress treats its own differently.

Still, Mr. Rangel pleaded for mercy when facing his accusers last week. He stated he felt his colleagues should honor that request because he didn’t commit these acts for his own “personal gain.” Really? I find that hard to believe. Here we have a sitting member - and chairman of the tax-writing committee - use his office to solicit funds for centers and other enterprises with his name on them. Who avoided paying taxes, only to say they were staff errors?

Look, I’m not penning this column to retry Mr. Rangel. It’s clear he’s remorseful and saddened by his actions. I applaud that.

But now, he should take his regrets and do the honorable thing and leave the Congress before year’s end, even before this House vote. My argument is not based on politics. Mr. Rangel’s seat is safely in Democratic hands. No, there is simply nothing left for Mr. Rangel to do.

The fall of Mr. Rangel brings up several issues. He did not do anything congressmen before him hadn’t done, and many still do. The difference is that Mr. Rangel was starting to be considered a liability by the camp of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, so she fed him to the Republicans and public as the token Democrat to live up to her rhetoric on “draining the swamp” of corruption in the Congress.

Strangely, the earliest charge only dates back to 10 years ago. It seems odd that after 40 years of public service, Mr. Rangel would suddenly start betraying the public trust, raising the question “Did he get sloppy, get targeted or finally give in to temptation?” The last thought is the most depressing - that a man stood strong for 40 years and decided to throw his hands in the air and joined the barbarians at the gate. This does not excuse Mr. Rangel’s behavior, it’s merely food for thought.

Moral relativists may argue, “Well, others do it, so why punish Mr. Rangel?” Other people’s bad behavior is never an excuse to engage in the same destructive conduct. Ask any mother and they’ll tell you the “Mikey did it” excuse doesn’t fly. I’ve heard this constantly from both Democrats and Republicans over the past 10 years. It’s either “Clinton did it, so why are the liberals castigating (insert GOPer here)?” or “Bush did it, so why do they criticize Obama?” Please! Both are wrong, and both need to be condemned for it. Reprobation is never excusable nor negligence easily dismissible, even if your side or hero is guilty. We can’t simply disregard Mr. Rangel’s conduct because others do it.

Mr. Rangel’s greatest sin is his failure to live up to the virtues the public expects of its political leaders. We can forgive many things, especially personal matters where the politician seeks public forgiveness. However, we cannot abide by someone that uses his positions for purely ego-driven legacy, monetary gain and tax evasion while preaching the evils of the wealth and the need for harsher taxation.

If you’re a fan of Spider-Man, you know this quote: “With great power comes great responsibility.” As an elected official and head of the Ways & Means Committee, Mr. Rangel had great power, but he gave in to the temptation to use that power for selfish gain. It is a sad story that gets repeated over and over - those who go to Washington to help others and reform the system eventually fall to its corruption. Many of these crimes would have been avoided if the official had taken some time out, stepped back and considered whether the venture he was entering into was virtuous or, at the very least, would his constituents approve? It doesn’t take much common sense to derive that tax evasion and soliciting funds from those you have power over is immoral behavior.

It is unfortunate that this abuse of authority and his long-winded, tangential, and bizarre screeds defending himself will be what most Americans remember of this - dare I say it - great American. He helped found the Congressional Black Caucus. He led the way for progressive policies. Though tarred, Mr. Rangel’s legacy will hopefully endure even this embarrassment. He could take to the well of the House and use that moment, not to defend the indefensible, but rather graciously thank his colleagues, the institution of the House of Representatives, and the American people for allowing him the great distinction of serving his country honorably in the Korean War and then serving his fellow Americans in public office.

That should be the legacy of Charlie Rangel - one that we all can be proud of. Not some surly, scandal-laden punctuation to an otherwise noble career of public service. Don’t let this episode dictate how you leave this chapter in your life, good sir. Define it on your own terms.

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