There’s a troubling story line to the ethics travails faced by Rep. Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y., and Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif. Both The Post and Politico ran stories Monday that highlight concern that African American lawmakers are facing added scrutiny. Some would say they are being targeted. And I would say that’s absolutely ridiculous.
First, it should be pointed out that neither Rangel nor Waters has made this claim. Nor has there been an official statement to this effect by the Congressional Black Caucus. I acknowledge that CBC member and House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., gave the theory some credence on “Morning Joe” on Monday. And an anonymous caucus member told Politico that there is a “dual standard, one for most members and one for African Americans.”
As an African American, I know and understand the sensitivity to unfair prosecution and persecution of blacks in the court of law and the court of public opinion. The reflex to speak against a rush to judgment is as innate as flinching from fire. But there are times when that sensitivity can blind us to very real questions that have nothing to do with race. In the cases of Rangel and Waters, I have to agree with a Twitter posting by NBC News political director Chuck Todd. Their troubles have to do with “entrenched entitlement.”
Rangel has held his Harlem congressional seat for 40 years. Waters has represented south-central Los Angeles for nearly 20 years. To read the alleged violations by Rangel and Waters is to go into a familiar world of power, access and perks. Rules of conduct were established to guard against abuse and excess. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., formed the Office of Congressional Ethics in 2008 as part of her promise to drain the swamp of corruption in Washington. That two powerful, high-ranking and highly regarded members of her party are facing rigorous scrutiny shows that Pelosi meant business. Thankfully, a misguided effort by Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, to weaken that office has gone nowhere.
The proceedings of the ethics committee are supposed to be secret. Only when charges are filed do they become public. But journalists and good-government organizations, such as Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), make it their business to keep the public informed. In fact, CREW has an “Under Investigation” Web site that chronicles the allegations against House and Senate members and where things stand. If you look there, you will see that the ethics committee is an equal-opportunity investigator.