Traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday is a wonderful tradition for Americans. Breaking bread with family members, remembering what's important, and getting some much-needed rest and relaxation are necessary exercises as a busy year begins to come to a close.
Getting together with family members from far and wide also has its minefields, with the possibilities of encountering a grumpy family patriarch, a gypsy daughter-in-law, or the cousin who, let's just say, hasn't found his calling in life — at 40. There always seems to be one person present who can't help but throw a wrench into the otherwise smooth-sailing festivities.
This past week, Congress came back to town, and the Democratic family came together to give thanks for its new majority power and to put its best foot forward in the national media spotlight.
This Thanksgiving the crazy uncle was a Democratic congressman from New York and soon-to-be chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Actually, the Democrats have plenty of crazy uncles — and aunts for that matter — but Charles Rangel took the drumstick this time.
Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation," Rangel said he would, after the Democrats take control, introduce legislation to reinstate the military draft as it was during the Vietnam War.
Rangel has been doing this "reinstate the draft" stunt for a few years now in an effort to scare the voting public and put pressure on the White House to cut and run from Iraq. His comments on "Face the Nation" illustrated his typical election year fear-mongering.
"There's no question in my mind that this president and this administration would never have invaded Iraq, especially on the flimsy evidence that was presented to the Congress, if indeed we had a draft and members of Congress and the administration thought that their kids from their communities would be placed in harm's way," he said.
For years Rangel's proposal was simply a political stunt. It had no chance of passing — much less of coming up for a vote. It was simply one of the liberal members of the Democrat minority trying to suggest some sort of hypocrisy by the Republicans. Now that Democrats are about to take control on Capitol Hill, his political bomb-throwing takes on a whole new level of seriousness, and people have taken notice.
Unfortunately, for Rangel, it also means that he will probably be eating at the kids' table this Thanksgiving, as fellow Democrats were quick to distance themselves.
The day after Rangel announced his renewed desire to reinstate the draft, top Democrats said "not-so-fast Mr. Rangel." Bloomberg reported House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader-elect Steny Hoyer's reaction to Rangel.
"The speaker and I have discussed scheduling'' for the House next year, Hoyer said after a meeting with Pelosi. `"It did not include'" the draft, he said.
"We have made very clear what our priorities are, and they're 'Six for '06,''' Pelosi said, naming the Democrats' plan to address what they call the middle-class squeeze by raising the minimum wage, repealing the richest tax cuts and increasing education grants. "Mr. Hoyer will be leading the action on the floor.''
And if Rangel, as chairman of the important Ways and Means Committee, thought he could push the issue through his committee, he was wrong. And Pelosi made sure he knew it.
"Mr. Rangel will be very busy with his work on the Ways and Means Committee, whose jurisdiction is quite a different jurisdiction,'' she said.
The Ways and Means Committee, with all its power over raising and lowering taxes, sure seems like the "kiddies' table" this morning.
Rangel joins his fellow anti-war buddy John Murtha of Pennsylvania, who is widely credited in Democrat circles with providing the backbone within the Democrat caucus on the issue of Iraq. But he was benched as soon as the Democrats won and had to behave like it.
The Democratic majority is an eclectic coalition that requires the trickiest of all balancing acts. The next couple of years will be exciting. There will be plenty of agonizingly long policy battles over minimum wage, raising taxes, and more entitlements. But at least there will be some comic relief on occasion from the unhinged liberals that are the core of the Democrat majority.
At the end of a tiring political season, Charlie Rangel has given us a little extra to be thankful for.