As popular resistance has mounted against the Democrats’ big-ticket policy agenda, one of the more overused tropes gaining currency in recent weeks is the notion that the United States has somehow become ungovernable. Nothing could be further from the truth. The real culprits are politicians themselves, who with each passing day demonstrate shocking untrustworthiness, poor judgment and utter condescension. In short, the governing class has become incapable of governing.
Which brings us to today’s test case. On Thursday, the voluble Rep. Charles Rangel — Harlem’s long-serving Democrat and chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee – was accused by an ethics panel of accepting corporate junkets to the Caribbean, in violation of House rules.
The ethics panel’s action is one of several hydra-headed investigations probing Mr. Rangel’s personal and business dealings, which include suspicions of tax-dodging, irregular housing arrangements, and conflicts-of-interest in his fundraising activities. Accusations of ethical lapses have dogged the Harlem legislator for at least two years, many of which bear all the hallmarks of a third-world corruption scandal. They have also triggered calls for him relinquish his influential tax-writing legislative post.
But if Thursday’s news is any indication of what lies ahead for Mr. Rangel, he would do well to follow several of his fellow prominent Democrats into retirement this year the sooner to make way for a newer generation of public servants eager to provide uncompromised leadership in challenging times.
Mr. Rangel is clearly very vulnerable, and his ethical misfortunes come at a very inopportune moment. The chief characteristic of the 2010 political dynamic is its anti-incumbent feel, and Mr. Rangel may yet become its latest victim. With public discontent with Congress is at or near all-time highs, challengers to the Harlem Democrat – including at least one from within his own party – are lining up to shake the vise-like grip Mr. Rangel has held on his district for the last four decades. The Congressman has stayed far too long at the dance, and his woes epitomize the very culture of corruption that have tarred legislators of both parties.
WATCH: VINCE MORGAN CHALLENGES RANGEL FOR HOUSE SEAT
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One almost pities the Democrats, who triumphantly rode a wave of popular discontent to recapture control of Congress in 2006, which now seems like a lifetime ago. Rangel’s woes illustrate the extent to which the Congressman has stayed far too long at the dance, and how thoroughly his party has succumbed to the temptations of absolute power.
During their years in the minority, Democrats were prone to high-dudgeon criticisms about Republican self-dealing and corruption. Yet Mr. Rangel’s own ethical problems belie the pledge made by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in 2006, when the euphoria over Democrats retaking the House made her wax eloquent about a Democratic-run Congress being the most ethical in history.
Alas, Mr. Rangel’s lapses have placed him in roughly the same category as Connecticut Sen. Chris ‘Friend of Angelo’ Dodd, who opted to retire this year amid a spate of accusations of questionable dealings. And after beating a populist drum on the subject of executive bonuses, Dodd was revealed to have played a central role in authorizing the outsized bonuses at insurance giant AIG.
So as the senior Democrat ponders his fate, Harlem residents need to ask themselves some difficult questions. Namely, can Charles Rangel really deliver for his district as he operates under a cloud of ethics lapses? When exactly was the last time he delivered tangible and untainted benefits for his constituents? And isn’t 40 years sufficient time to accomplish the goals he intended when he set out to run for office? Mr. Rangel would do the public – and his party – a favor by opting to go gently into the good night.