Not befitting Charlie’s last hurrah

An editorial in one of the city’s dailies, commenting on the House ethics committee’s vote to censure Congressman Charlie Rangel, made this point: “We suppose that future violators are not likely to be so obviously self-defeating. They will be more cunning.” Which cues us to wonder whether an inability to be “cunning” is basically why the congressman stands today in some rather awkward shoes.

That particular take on getting around an ethics violations rap might in turn invite conjecture, for instance, about one of George W. Bush’s most dependable House confederates in those very forgettable days of ultra-conservative overreach — a guy whose fancy finagling precipitated his departure from a seat of Capitol Hill power, notwithstanding that a halt was ultimately called to the criminal justice moves that were supposedly in the works against him. Was that what being cunning is all about?

The aforementioned editorial appears to be on point in differentiating Congressman Rangel from those prone to go the cunning route. Ever since the brouhaha surrounding the congressman first got into the news, there really has been nothing in his demeanor suggestive of anything but confidence that any thorough look into the facts would exonerate him – a stance that seems much more in league with the “self-defeating” label in that editorial. Underpinning and starkly contrasting with all of this is that Congressman Rangel has posted an enviable record as an unwavering stalwart for progressive causes and as a fearless voice for Black America in Washington, alongside his 40-year marathon of faithfully standing up and delivering for the constituency he has served.

When, a little while back, things seriously began looking like the congressman’s troubles weren’t about to see him emerge squeaky clean from it all, President Obama’s comment that Rangel should bring down the curtain on his long career “with dignity” seemed pretty sound as an exit strategy. Indeed, it would have been surprising if there weren’t a consensus, even among Rangel’s ardent admirers, for precisely such a course of action.

With the process having been allowed to go forward, a censure motion having now made its way into the storyline, Rangel’s tactic of adamantly insisting that a no-holds-barred probing of his dealings would reveal no wrongdoing on his part, seems difficult to fathom.

If on the one hand one appreciates a commitment to service and the affinity Rangel feels to the Harlem community, even at age 80, this just doesn’t come close to offsetting a risk of humiliation which already has turned very real…with more to come. A heartrending tableau it was, watching this lion of New York and Washington politics report that he no longer could afford legal counsel, watching him being denied a request to his colleagues for further delay in the proceedings and finally seeing those colleagues reject the milder reprimand option by way of punishment. This was not a plot design befitting the likes of Charlie Rangel.

Current political reality confounds whatever has been the rationale for Rangel’s refusal to bow out with the current Congress. Forced earlier to give up the chair of the Ways and Means Committee, Rangel’s committing to a battle to regain that perch, while still not understandable, would at least reflect zealous pursuit of a coveted plum he had earned. But the congressman had to be as tuned in as everyone else to the Democrats’ impending loss of control of the House, making moot any rumination concerning a committee chairmanship. In those circumstances, the obsession with staying on becomes even more of a perplexity. Setting his sights on becoming the committee’s head Democrat, as has been rumored, doesn’t look to be, in the current scenario, a forward path worthy of serious consideration.

Rangel’s Harlem constituency, meanwhile, has demonstrated its solid support for him and, one suspects, would do so again. That show of loyalty, however, should not be brandished as the only or primary factor governing whether the time has arrived for the fat lady’s song. The congressman may well be telling it straight in his contention that there was no intent to realize personal gain in the instances cited by the ethics panel of his operating outside the rules – that such mistakes as were made were more a function of sloppiness on the part of himself and others around him. Bottom line, however, is that he apparently expected his peers to conclude differently, and they didn’t. And whether or not a majority of them wanted to mete out slap-on-the-wrist type punishment, one can’t be too shocked at what Rangel has been subjected to, given how much Congress has been put on the defensive these days.

As if what he has already endured weren’t enough, the congressman faces what figures to be an even more agonizing experience during the censure motion proceedings before the full House. And again, if it gets to that, what will unfold will be painful both for Rangel and the many who have lauded his public service dedication these many years. Again, this congressman having a place at the center will give a surreal cast to that setting.

President Obama hasn’t always been right in the past when poking his nose into some New York-connected political happenings. Not so, this time around. Everything now suggests that on the matter of staying on or moving out, with respect to Congressman Rangel, the president perceptively made the right call.

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