Guest Post By Ryan T. Lees
Charlie Rangel (D-NY) threw himself a birthday fundraiser at the Plaza Hotel. His ethics hearing does not appear to have rained on his self-executed parade. Amid the praises at the party, and the acclamation on the morning talk shows following, it is plain to see the problem: They just do not get it.
Considering that Rangel had a couple years to prepare his defense, he does not seem concerned about consequence or have regard for the baseness of his actions, regret for his deeds or awareness of public interest.
The list of charges is long. The more serious abuses of his power include tax evasion, using his office to fundraise and rent control fraud in his district. There should be no delay in filing, let alone evasion, since Rangel chairs the House Ways and Means Committee and was trusted with oversight; he wrote the rules.
It is one thing for Rangel to put on a smile and prophesize vindication. He is a politician; it is in his DNA. It is different for political leaders to come out to support his corruption by making light of the situation or professing his innocence.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg made jest that many people would not attend; they had unexpected “haircuts” and inevitable “headaches.” Humor helps while partying in adverse conditions, yet this is too grave. The light-heartedness exists because this is the status quo. For some, corruption is the incentive to achieve high office.
A more understandable sentiment (given its defensive posture), was Al Sharpton’s statement that this is “political execution;” not tax evasion or fraud, but the character assassination of Rangel.
Sharpton’s assertion is flawed. The Dems have power and ultimately leveled the charges. This invalidates Chuck Schumer’s placation that Rangel “has never disappointed us in Washington.” In tandem with the Bloomberg’s inadvertently honest remark that “they were with you as long as they could be,” they strike at the core. Translation: everyone knew what Rangel was doing. Perhaps they recognized it because they were doing the same, and if they do not take his head, maybe they will lose their own.
Why is this not a logical assumption? Here we have a group of politicians who pass healthcare and openly exempt themselves from the requirements. Here we have a body that skirts parliamentary procedure on a regular basis and tells us not to worry about bills’ content. Here we have individuals who buy and sell votes. We suffer Chris Dodd, Maxine Waters, James Traficant, Barney Frank, the Cornhusker Kickback and the Louisiana Purchase. Charlie got caught, but Congress remains a bazaar.
They just don’t get it. They do not understand what is transpiring publicly around the country. As they punish Rangel professionally, they laud him privately. Rather than honor among each other, they should worry about the fleecing of the public’s trust.
It is not political courage for Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Governor Patterson, Mayor Dinkins and other representatives to show up beside Rangel. It is publicly displayed moral ineptitude.
Dems dismiss the masses organizing, protesting and booting out incumbents as “tea baggers.” Officially “Tea Partiers,” they have a more poignant name: the American Public. When their numbers are upwards of 50 million, they can not be eschewed. They get it. They see it.They are trying to tell them that the corruption must stop. The privilege is over and misplaced.
The leadership of this country needs to join them in the streets and show moral courage. Yet they continue to show loyalty to their ilk and they continue to use political expediency as their metric.
Unfortunately, our press is out to lunch. I woke up Thursday morning and heard Joe Scarborough, self-appointed conservative of MSNBC, state he has “respect for Charlie’s service, but he’s guilty as hell.” If he is guilty as hell, why have respect for his service? Crimes were not committed exclusive of his service. The service he claims was to cloak his character. It enabled his criminality. It was the means to his ends.
I do not doubt Rangel’s guilt. Nor is there doubt of many others just as guilty, if not more. The questions that remain: First, when will they get the idea the power is not theirs? Second, did the invitations to Rangel’s birthday go out on his congressional stationary?
Ryan Lees is the Director of Media Outreach and a Program Coordinator at the Patrick Henry Center