How Maxine Waters and Charlie Rangel Played Themselves
by R.L. Nave Posted Aug 16th 2010 1:00PM
With all of the problems facing America, congressional Democrats need a couple of high-profile ethics probes like Rihanna needs another misspelled -- or not? -- tattoo. But U.S. Representatives Maxine Waters and Charles Rangel are still sitting in ethical hot water and here's why.
Washington's latest political drama involves U.S. Reps. Maxine Waters and Charles Rangel Democrats representing Los Angeles and Harlem, respectively. To put their situation in cinematic terms (and give a shameless BVX link, sue us), like Ice Cube's character Craig in the classic 'Friday,' longtime legislators must go up against a powerful thug (Debo = the U.S. House Office of Congressional Ethics) and risk losing their street cred (manhood x a shot at Nia Long = Democratic control of the House).
In July, a U.S. House investigative committee filed 13 charges of wrongdoing against Harlem's Rangel. The most serious accusations were that Rangel, a 20-term congressman, failed to pay taxes on a home in the Dominican Republican, neglected to report hundreds of thousands of dollars of income, got several apartments in New York City for far less than market rate, and used official letterhead to solicit money for a school that bears his name.
The Office of Congressional Ethics also charged U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters of Los Angeles in August with three counts of unfairly using her influence, including helping a bank where her husband held stock get a $12 million government bailout.
Both lawmakers have denied doing anything wrong -- Rangel during an ill-advised 30-minute soliloquy on the House floor. They have both also asked that their hearings take place before the November election despite reports that high-ranking House Democrats are more than happy to put them off until later this year.
Their punishments could range from censure, which is essentially a very public slap on the wrist, which is all that happened to Bill Clinton for his ethical abuses of Monica Lewinsky's blue dress, to removal from office, in which case each of their seats will wind up going to another African American.
From looking at the facts, it seems less a clear-cut case of shady politicians run amok than a pair of lawmakers -- with 60 years of public service between them -- who got careless and broke the rules at a time when the public's sensitivity to anything with so much as a whiff of corruption is heightened.
Take Rangel's situation: Does anybody really think that at 80 years old, he sits down every April with all his receipts and a copy of the House Rules for Conduct and does his own taxes? Waters' case gets even fuzzier. Yes, it's true that she and her husband owned stock in the minority-owned bank that received bailout funds, but as chairwoman of the Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity, it could be argued that she was simply doing her job. After all, how many black banks could there be?
But we might not even be here had Rangel not himself asked the the House Ethics Committee in 2008 to determine whether his use of congressional stationary for a fundraiser was improper or if public outrage over bank bailouts hadn't prompted such close scrutiny of Waters' involvement with OneUnited.
Even if we chalk Waters and Rangel's faux pas up to political senility, there's a real danger in letting ethics violations slide. All public officials, at some point in their careers, will feel themselves crossing a line that they never intended to cross. When they do, to paraphrase a line, that line vanishes and then they're nothing but another dirty politician joke.
This is the very moment that people start to grown distrustful, or even worse, apathetic, about the idea of a government that works for its citizens.