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Ethics Charges Offer Democrats No Way Out in November

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Like many, I like to spend my summer months catching up on some good books and vacationing in Europe. Only this year, I’ve stopped reading fiction. Why bother when real life is so much more interesting? In fact, I think I’ll stop reading books altogether for the next several weeks. All I need are the latest editions of The Hill and the Washington Times to cover the scintillating scandals that have totally rocked Democratic Reps. Charles Rangel (NY) and Maxine Waters (CA). I know fiction writers are green with envy on these developing storylines.

The latest developments surrounding the Waters and Rangel cases have both looking like they will spend 2011 in retirement; perhaps even in the pokey if there’s another shoe that has yet to fall.

Both claim their innocence, with Rep. Rangel defiantly telling supporters and whoever will listen earlier this week at his annual mega-birthday bash that he will fight these allegations with every fiber of his being.

Has anyone seen this summer movie before? I have. Try 2006 when Republicans such as former Reps. Rick Renzi, Richard Pombo, Mark Foley and others lined up to the microphones to declare their innocence. Instead of summarily removing them from office (or at least asking them to step down from running that year), Republican leaders whistled in the other direction, refusing to set an example. [I don’t remember – did Republican leadership not call for any of their resignations? Seems to me they might have belatedly called for Foley’s, but like I said, I’m not sure.]

And here we are barely four years later, and after publicly calling out the Republicans for their ethical filth, Speaker Pelosi spends her mornings at the Four Seasons whistling away the day, hoping Rangel and Waters figure this mess out before it spills onto her hair.

And then (cue the music) allegations of racism fill the political theater. “You’re only going after these members because they’re black!” come the cries. This was a predictable, if not humdrum, response. After all, if mere opposition to the Democrats’ health-care overhaul made white Americans racist; if mere opposition to tax increases by white Americans makes them necessarily racist; if merely believing that affirmative action is wrong makes white Americans racist, then of course we expected that to charge a black public official with unethical, or especially illegal, activity would also be dismissed as racism. The racism charge has been so haphazardly and yet all-encompassingly leveled at anyone who opposes the left’s agenda that had skin color not come up in the Rangel and Waters cases; I might have had to look out the window to see if the world was coming to an end.

But there’s color at stake here all right. The color green. The allure of the money pulled these two titans from the mountain. After decades of “doing right” and “following the rules” these two got clumsy. They excused their actions in the name of a higher purpose. For Rangel, it was a center, library or some other building with his name on it. Not paying taxes on properties in the Dominican Republican when you’re the chair of the tax writing panel? A minor oversight. Besides, I don’t speak the language.

But he does know how to say “dollars” in Spanish.

The only bias on display in these investigations would be if the Ethics Committee looked the other way because Rangel and Waters were black. No one is above the law. And for that matter, it’s obvious that ethical lapses in judgment know no party label – much less, skin color.

A look back at the past decade in Washington politics ought to teach Americans an important lesson about corruption. It’s simple. Both sides have their bad apples. Americans threw the Republican bums out in 2006, hoping that replacing them with Democrats would usher in a new era of political purity. But power corrupts, as the saying goes, and because absolute power corrupts absolutely, we established a system of checks and balances – and most importantly, we established elections – to allow Americans to purge Washington and their state houses when the leaders forget who they are and what good governance really is all about.

Do the recent revelations of excess and abuse by these several Democratic members of Congress mean that the Democratic Party itself is corrupt, and did the few Republicans who abused their position when they were in power represent Republicans at large? Or even more narrowly that Americans now need to throw all the bums out in Washington and replace them with Republicans? While it would certainly serve my own self-interest as a conservative to argue that yes, this means we need to get rid of all Democrats, what it really means is that Americans need to look more closely at the individual members who represent them and ask themselves, “Is he or she on the level? Does my representative in Congress truly represent my needs, or is he or she only there to serve his or her own self-interest?”

No matter who is in charge in Washington, corrupt individuals will surface. It’s human nature. It’s the cycle of political life. Political corruption doesn’t check itself at any party door.

But Americans are still likely to hold the Democratic Party responsible for a few of its members’ ethics violations, regardless of their skin color. And that’s fine by this conservative. I’m in no rush to show the Democrats a way out of this mess.

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