The Hero and the Goat

Published: November 17, 2010

By Jim Lichtman
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Yesterday, a House panel found New York Democratic Representative Charles Rangel guilty of 11 ethics violations stemming from improper solicitation of fund-raising and failure to accurately report his personal income.

After reaching a verdict, the subcommittee now sends the case to the full House ethics committee to determine how the 80-year-old will be disciplined. Punishments range from a formal reprimand with fines to expulsion from the House, although many feel that expulsion is highly unlikely.

In a statement, Rangel said, “How can anyone have confidence in the decision of the Ethics Subcommittee when I was deprived of due process rights, right to counsel and was not even in the room? I can only hope that the full Committee will treat me more fairly, and take into account my entire 40 years of service to the Congress before making any decisions on sanctions.”

Beginning in 2008, the investigation looking into Rangel’s personal and financial irregularities has consumed a lot of distracted time in the House and a lot of hot air from the congressman. While he has denied intentional wrongdoing, the feisty Democrat clings to the little trust he has after his constituents overwhelming voted his return to the House.

While the case has been termed clear cut by Blake Chisam, the ethics panel’s staff director and lead prosecutor, Chisam also believes that there is no proof that Rangel engaged in corrupt acts. “I think he was overzealous and sloppy in his personal finances.”

Regardless, Rangel’s attitude throughout the last two years has been both defensive and arrogant. Although, he was stripped of his chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee, the House needs to take a firm hand, perhaps by beginning with reading the key points from the first page of the House Ethics Manuel.

“Members, officers, and employees of the House should:

  • “Conduct themselves at all times in a manner that reflects creditably on the House;
  • “Abide by the spirit as well as the letter of the House rules; and
  • “Adhere to the broad ethical standards expressed in the Code of Ethics for Government Service.”

No matter Rangel’s final penalty, I would require the congressman to submit to 20-30 hours of ethics training where he is assigned homework and must take a final exam. If he doesn’t pass, I would have him return for an additional 10 hours work with a personal tutor.

On the same day that Rangel’s verdict came down, Army Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta was awarded the Medal of Honor for valor by President Obama. Without regard for his own safety, Sgt. Giunta deliberately stepped into the line of fire during an ambush by Taliban fighters in Afghanistan in order to help two of his fellow soldiers.

Staff Sgt. Giunta became the first living service member to receive the nation’s highest military honor for action during any war since Vietnam. He has also been awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.

As individuals employed by the same government, Rangel and Giunta couldn’t be more different. At work in the House, Rangel is all smiles and handshakes. At work in the deadliest piece of real estate in Afghanistan, the Korengal Valley, Giunta is all about the battle at hand.

Rangel is about working the system. Giunta’s about working the problem. Rangel talks about his 40 years in House. Giunta says, “I would give [the medal] back in a second to have my friends with me right now.”

Staff Sgt. Giunta’s humility is as sincere as Rangel’s arrogance is insulting.

Maybe one solution would be to have Staff Sgt. Giunta tutor Rangel. While he’s at it, he could also instruct the congressman as to the nature of true leadership.



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