With Apologies to Jefferson, De Tocqueville and Shaw

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Charlie Rangel is going to force the issue. The longtime United States Representative from New York’s 15th Congressional District isn’t going down without a fight over the ethics charges which have been levied against him.

Although his fellow Democrat Nancy Pelosi promised to “drain the swamp” in Washington, progress on that front suggests she’s using a soap ladle to empty the Everglades. Some point to Charlie—whose district sports a Partisan Voting Index of D+43 (making it the most redoubtably liberal place in America outside Pelosi’s living room)—as a gravel-voiced shout for term limits.

I disagree. I can easily identify a whole retinue of wire-pullers and spoilsmongers whose continued occupation of elected offices lowers our collective political intelligence the way reality television has turned a generation of teenagers into slack-jawed mouth breathers (Snookie and J-Woww! OMG!); it’s just that we already have term limits. We call them elections.

When it comes to sending grafters to the political bone yard, elections are theoretically as potent a man-stopper as a 12-gauge shotgun. But like any weapon, elections only work if we pull the trigger.

There are 535 members of the two houses of Congress, 50 governors and thousands of various state and local legislators. Many of them have been situated in office long enough to earn the envy of the hardiest fungi. And while we deserve better than most of them, each one of them deserves to stay in office as long as we’ll let them. After all, while few of them are anything but honest about what they’re doing there, at the very least, they’re honest about wanting to be there.

Rangel is far from the only politico who ever made us shake our heads in disgust. The goodly folk of South Carolina sent Strom Thurmond back to the Senate long past the time he was drooling in his pudding. Imagine being so decrepit that you can relegate a fossilized remnant like Fritz Hollings to junior status.

Lately, the Palmetto State allowed Mark Sanford to continue holding down their governor’s chair even after he “hiked the Appalachian Trail.” (At least, that’s what the kids are calling it these days.) Now Alvin Greene, the South Carolina Democrat nominee for Senate, has suggested an economic recovery plan which includes action figures—of Alvin Greene. I believe some South Carolinians might say “not all his dogs are barking.”

Come to think of it—maybe South Carolina should be the location for a term limit test program. If they elect Action Figure Alvin to the Senate then term limits can go the way of Al Gore’s Presidential aspirations.

Rangel has represented the same basic constituency since before I was born. After being forced to relinquish his post as the chairman of the enormously powerful House Ways and Means committee earlier this year, he’s now up against the ropes as the roster of ethical violations he “allegedly” committed stretches from his rent-control-law violating apartments and offices in New York all the way to the Dominican Republic vacation villa on which he failed to report rental income. (Personal Liberty Digest™ doesn’t have the bandwidth necessary for me to recount the litany of Rangellian excesses, and you don’t have the time.)

But the voters in New York’s 15th like Charlie. Their parents liked Charlie. He is facing opposition this year, and it might be time enough for Charlie to enjoy retirement at one of his multiple subtropical retreats (yes, there’s more than one.)

Even if 2010 is Charlie’s swan song, what can we expect to see in his stead? Rangel’s predecessor, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., was repeatedly re-elected to the House by these same citizens despite his own menu of brazen impropriety. They only replaced Powell with Rangel when Powell stopped showing up for work. I hate to say it but I doubt their voting acumen has improved after 40 years.

But what about the rest of us? Incumbents get re-elected to the tune of better than 90 percent, a number which hardly jibes with the 11 percent approval rating Congress enjoys at the moment. Eighty-nine out of 100 of recognize what these people are. But only one in 10 of them is going to be looking for work come November.

Look, Charlie Rangel deserves our derision, and gets a fair amount of it. But his constituents don’t seem to mind. And as a result, they deserve no better. Judging by his colleagues and compatriots—neither do we.

Personal Liberty

Ben Crystal

is a 1993 graduate of Davidson College and has burned the better part of the last two decades getting over the damage done by modern-day higher education. He now lives in Savannah, Ga., where he has hosted an award-winning radio talk show and been featured as a political analyst for television. Currently a principal at Saltymoss Productions—a media company specializing in concept television and campaign production, speechwriting and media strategy—Ben has written numerous articles on the subjects of municipal authoritarianism, the economic fallacy of sin taxes and analyses of congressional abuses of power.

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