Game over Charlie


Most of the news reports concerning New York Rep. Charles Rangel's alleged ethical violations have referred to the problem the Democratic Party might face in the fall elections if he forces a public trial in the House on the 13 allegations.

That is merely the short-term issue, however. Long-term, it has more to do with what happens to even the best leaders after decades in Congress. Something clearly does happen to many -- much of it having to do with a sense of entitlement and/or arrogance. There are those who somehow believe their sexual affairs will never be revealed, while others begin to look at ethically dubious deals and offers as just another perk of office, like parking or franking privileges.

Many of his House colleagues, among whom Mr. Rangel, now 80, and a 20-term member of Congress, remains popular, either believe he committed ethic violations in not reporting income and in other instances, or they are failing to rush to his defense for other, unknown reasons. We would guess they think at least some of the violations will stick.

A Korean War veteran and medal winner, Mr. Rangel was elected from his Harlem district as a Democrat in 1970. He rose by 2007 to the powerful chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee. But, in heading the committee that writes tax legislation, it was especially incumbent upon Mr. Rangel to strictly follow the tax laws. The evidence is strong that he did not.

What will happen if there is a trial before the House, which could lead to his ouster from that chamber, remains to be seen, but the spectacle certainly won't help his party as it tries to fend off strong Republican challenges.

That is why he has been urged by many to reach a compromise settlement in which he would be somehow censured by the House but not tossed out. Others just want him gone from the House.

It is difficult to believe that this Congressman, who, in representing Harlem, could not be totally out of touch with the "real world," would take this issue this far and threaten not only his party's chances in a crucial election but his reputation as a longtime effective leader. A censure is one thing, an ouster from the House is something else -- in fact, the blackest of marks.

What this political saga also represents is another argument for term limits on congressional offices, which should be long enough to ensure a full career but not represent a lifetime appointment. Too often, and with too many disastrous consequences, the current system leads well beyond complacency into ineffectiveness into arrogance into ethical lapses. This does the nation no earthly good, despite the oft-cited experience of long-serving officials.

It would be better if they found other ways to serve in different capacities and brought fresh ideas and enthusiasm rather than complacency and tone deafness.



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