Charlie Rangel does not want our cheers. He doesn’t need our cheers. His public life has never been a melodrama; celebrity politics is not his game. His career and accomplishments are the only fitting accolades. However the House rebukes him, whatever columnists say about him, that’s what counts and it can’t be taken away. In the age where the superficial prevails and the genuine is routinely eclipsed by the confected, it is hard to come to grips with someone like Charlie Rangel. A big man with a healthy ego who never lost sight, though, of what mattered most — the people whom he represented and the causes of social justice that served them. Sure he broke some rules, and he bent some others. But he never sold out; he kept his integrity. His convictions were integral to who he was and what he did.
Is a Charlie Rangel an ethical public servant? By what performance standard? What have been the public ethics of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama? Have they had convictions about anything but their personal ambitions? Have they hesitated a moment before betraying the people they swore to help? Have they addressed the concerns of the common man who is praised to the skies in their rhetoric but not in their actions? Do these self regarding narcissists even know who they are? Yet enlightened opinion remains respectful and deferential. Charlie Rangel as Chairman of the House Ways & Means produced a sound, progressive piece of legislation that then was tortured into the absurd act that we are left with. His counterpart, Barney Frank as Chairman as the House Financial Services Committee, proved far more responsive to the pressures from Wall Street. By the standards of public service, Charlie Rangel should be placed above them all. On the record of what really counts, he deserves better than to be dragged over the coals in the lead editorial of The New York Times.
I’ve never met Charlie Rangel. The only time I ever saw him was in the aisle of a shuttle from National to La Guardia. He was smiling apologetically for a delay of 2 or 3 minutes that was his fault. Not a cosmetic smile from a consultant’s book of etiquette. It came from a man who as a Marine won the Bronze Star for heroism in Korea, then studied mathematics before plunging into politics where he truly has served for 40 years. Why should he twist himself inside-out in groveling before people in the House most of whom can’t even imagine someone of his temper. So here’s a smile, and a well earned toast, to a decent albeit imperfect man who did a heck of a lot.