Representatives Charles Rangel, a New York Democrat, and Maxine Waters, a California Democrat, are both facing ethics charges. Both also happen to be African-Americans and prominent members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC).
But contrary to some of their defenders’ claims, race has nothing to do with the charges. As Fox News’ media expert Bernie Goldberg pointed out last night on the “O’Reilly Factor,” plenty of white congressmen and senators of both parties have been charged with ethics violations over the years.
Congressional ethics lapses are one of the main reasons that the public holds Congress in such low esteem – only 11% approve of how Congress is handling itself.
Yet the truth does not stop the cynical use of racism as a political weapon. Rangel himself likened the public scrutiny of his alleged ethics violations to being “lynched.” CBC member Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., called it a “witch hunt.”
Representative James E. Clyburn, Democrat of South Carolina and a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, blamed Rangel and Waters’ problems on those awful, racist Tea Party members:
Those Tea Party people that showed up at the health care debate, they will not hesitate for one moment to racialize something. They did, and they will.
The truth is that Rangel and Waters brought their troubles upon themselves. Whatever happened to Rev. Martin Luther King’s call for us to judge people by the content of their character, not by the color of their skin?
Rangel is charged with thirteen ethics charges ranging from failure to pay taxes, failure to disclose income, use of a rent-controlled apartment in New York for campaign business and taking donations for an educational center bearing his name from companies that had business pending before the House Ways and Means Committee while Rangel was serving as its chairman.
Waters is charged with having improperly intervened on behalf of a bank in which her husband had a financial interest.
Both Rangel and Waters contest the charges and are entitled to their “day in court.” However, both they and President Obama should insist that issues of race be kept completely out of the debate.