February 26, 2010

No ethics medal for Rangel

We’ve long admired the achievements of Congressman Charlie Rangel of New York, who rose from a tough childhood in Harlem to a career of public service in New York and a leadership role in the U.S. House of Representatives.

With a witty – some would say charming -- demeanor, the 79-year-old Rangel is one of those rare politicians who can make himself understood clearly in ten words or less.

Chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee in the House, Rangel has been admonished by a House ethics panel for accepting trips to the Caribbean from a private corporation. While that panel exonerated four other Congressmen who were also on those trips in 2007 and 2008, they didn't absolve Rangel.

Alas, Rangel’s utterance this week in defense of those trips was more than ten words. He was dancing the old “Potomac two-step,” and it’s not a happy situation for Rangel or his supporters.

The usually amiable Rangel told a news conference, “I don’t want to be critical of the committee but common sense dictates that members of Congress should not be held responsible for what could be the wrongdoing or mistakes or errors of staff unless there’s reason to believe that member knew or should have known, and there is nothing in the record to indicate the latter.”

Army hero Charlie Rangel, winner of the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his valiant service during the Korean War, wouldn’t duck responsibility. But this is another Charlie Rangel, numbed by some 40 years on Capitol Hill, deflecting responsibility and suggesting underlings were to blame.

Charlie Rangel has done a lot of good things for his constituents in Manhattan. And he’s done a lot of good things for his country. But I fear he has succumbed to the ways of Washington, cutting corners and losing touch with the people – and the principles – that may have lured him to public service in the first place.

It’s a powerful example of why we need term limits for most elected officials.

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