Democrats pounced on the scandal and unleashed a flurry of election-focused negative ads in an effort to bring down the Republican majority.
Now it is Republicans’ turn to go after Democrats.
U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel of New York, one of the most powerful Democrats on Capitol Hill, is under fire for breaking House rules. His alleged crime is taking corporate donations for travel and expenses and for funneling some of these donations to other Democrats as campaign contributions.
Rangel denies the charges. It is not the place of this page to judge him before he has faced the judgment of his peers.
However, it’s tough to ignore the dilemma this presents for Democrats and the obvious glee with which Republicans continue to bring it up.
First, there is the fact that Democrats won in 2008 by promising to run the most ethical Congress in history. What they have done instead is give voters a taste of “more of the same,” and no doubt encouraged the vote-’em-all-out sentiment abroad in the land. The only defense Democrats have is the old “you did it, too” retort, and that is a weak reed on which to lean.
But Republicans also are taking delight in a Democratic problem that the GOP will never have to mention, or want to mention, in an attack ad — race, that ever-present problem in American politics.
Rangel is black. He’s also a leader of the Democratic Black Caucus, which is as redundant as a Republican Black Caucus is an oxymoron.
The Black Caucus is a critical voting bloc in the Democratic Party and in Congress as a whole. So far, the Caucus is standing by Rangel; as long as it does, any white Democrat who criticizes the embattled representative runs the risk of losing Caucus support. Republicans, with no fear of losing what they never had, can not only attack Rangel but they can also criticize white Democrats for doing what they did in the Foley case — standing quiet and hoping it will all go away.
From this we should learn a simple lesson. If there is an ethics violation, it is the responsibility of those who discover it to bring charges. It also is the responsibility of those who will sit in judgment to weigh those charges and make a decision.
Most importantly, it is the responsibility of the rest of us — regardless of party or persuasion — to keep partisanship out of the process. Democrats did not in 2006, and look what it has gained them. If Republicans do not refrain from making this a political issue today, the time will surely come when they will wish they had.