In almost any other election year, Rep. Charlie Rangel's ethics problems would have been a major campaign issue, in much the way that Republicans' myriad ethics and corruption scandals framed the 2006 election. The only reason Democrats got a "pass" on Rangel before the election is that so much else was going wrong for them and dominating the headlines. Rangel's conviction by a House panel today on 12 ethics violations should change that, but only to a degree. The consequences of the conviction are laughable: Rangel can expect a sternly worded letter of reprimand or, worst case, a censure. As the Times' write-up notes, the committee has the power to expel, but no one thinks that's going to happen.
One of Washington's obsessions post-election has been badgering President Obama to say that he understands that the electorate sent him a message, and his reluctance to do so led to a flurry of pronouncements--mocked by the Daily Show here--that he just "doesn't get it." After Rangel's buffoonish appearance before, and conviction by, the ethics committee, and after House Democrats decided no changes (!) were necessary in their leadership, I think the charge of not getting it applies much more to congressional Democrats than it does the president.
In the two weeks since the election, Republicans have made a pretty good show of doing something to change the culture of Washington by attacking earmarks--yes, yes, earmarks are only a tiny sliver of the budget, and even this small step has been taken grudgingly. But in comparison to what the Democrats have done--or rather have not done, by declining to push Rangel out and allowing him to flaunt his corruption and embarrass them all--the Republicans look like the more responsible party.
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