Are we not all a little tired of Washington yet? I mean how do we get rid of these guys? Remember Randall “Duke” Cunningham, Vietnam ace and bastion of conservative values? He’s doing a conservative 100 months in the federal joint for taking bribes. Now we have Charlie Rangel. Like we didn’t know that charming Charlie has been a little shady for a while now.
Perhaps the more appropriate question is, How do these guys continue to get reelected? They seem to hover around Washington like swamp gas.
Of course it’s nothing new. During the 1790s Alexander Hamilton appointed William Duer as assistant secretary of the treasury. Duer resigned from the job when he learned federal law prohibited him from speculating in federal securities, but he took $230,000 in taxpayer dollars with him.
Back in 1888 soon-to-be Arkansas U.S. Representative Clifton R. Breckenridge was involved in a voter fraud scam. Ballot box stuffing wasn’t all that uncommon in the post-Reconstruction South, but Breckenridge complicated things a bit by having his opponent whacked, when he contested the election.
So Charlie Rangel is in good company, and he hails from a rich tradition in his own Harlem district. He succeeded Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Powell no chaste exemplar of political propriety. But Charlie is a bone fide war hero who rose from humble beginnings on the mean streets of Harlem, educated himself and obtained a St. John’s University law degree. He is an American success story.
In his countless television news interviews over the years, we grew accustomed to Charlie Rangel’s charming street-honed wit and astute fix on the political landscape, whether we shared his political perspectives or not. Charlie is a guy people stop and listen to. He is wealthy beyond any reasonable expectation, for a kid raised by a maid-seamstress mother and an abusive, often-absent, alcoholic father.
So why is Charlie hanging on? Why did such a gifted man stay so long in Washington in the first place? Charlie Rangel is 80 years old. He could have spent the last 15 or 20 years enjoying his success and giving back directly into the old neighborhood, making a real difference in personal public service.
Now Charlie Rangel, war hero, Harlem kid-made-good, 39-year member of Congress, co-founder of the Congressional Black Caucus, Ways and Means chair is accused of ethics violations and not paying taxes.
As cynical as I can be, I refuse to believe that Charlie Rangel was not a good man when he came to Washington. There are those who will say all politicians are crooks, but I have never believed it. Charlie was a war hero; he stepped into the line of fire for his friends and his country. No one who does that is devoid of character.
I know it’s naïve, but I have always liked to believe, when we elect people to high office we are putting forward someone a little better than ourselves; someone who perhaps avoided a few of the pitfalls we ourselves fell into, or prepared themselves a little better. I know that is not really true but I try to believe it anyway.
I hazard to guess that if most of us could spend a week behind the scenes in Washington, we would think the most honorable politician in town was corrupt, just for the benefits and perks they receive for simply being there. Perhaps it shouldn’t be that way, but it always has been and will be, and we can expect no less in so great a nation. Prosperity and greatness are always accompanied by pitfalls.
Charlie Rangel undoubtedly did some good during his nearly 40 years in Congress, and it is a true shame that he may be remembered for the few bad things he has done, from time to time. But it is also true-as is all too often the case-that Charlie Rangel stayed too long in Congress. He made a profession out of a job that was only intended to be a selfless term of service.