Earl Ofari Hutchinson

*Politics does, indeed, make strange bedfellows. How else to characterize one of Congress’s loudest, most outspoken ultraconservatives, Rep. Peter King of New York, protesting the House vote to censure Harlem congressman Charles Rangel, an African-American, a Democrat, and a longtime paragon of liberalism?

Of course, King’s defense of Rangel had nothing to do with political affection, identification, outrage over his treatment, or even fear that the censure vote could set a dangerous precedent. No, the point was to ensure that the corruption spotlight shone brightly on the Democrats. That’s exactly what’s happened.

On the one hand, it’s hard to feel much sympathy for Rangel. He didn’t just flaunt the rules — he mocked them. As a longtime member of the House Ways and Means Committee, and for the last four years its chairman, Rangel enjoys enormous power over tax policy issues. Yet he blatantly failed to pay taxes on his own property for several years. In his half-hearted pleas for mercy, even Rangel repeatedly acknowledged that he had made “serious mistakes.”

After the imbroglio broke, speculation was rampant about what might happen to him. Rangel refused a deal. He won reelection to a 21st term, so there was not much chance that he’d be expelled. When the House Ethics Committee found him guilty, by a 9-to-1 vote, of 11 violations of House rules, censure became a virtual certainty. And in fact, this week he became the first member of Congress to be censured in more than a quarter century.

Now Rangel and, to a lesser extent, California Rep. Maxine Waters are firmly imprinted in the media and public mind as the poster pair for congressional corruption. They’re black, high-profile, high-ranking Democrats, and they’re outspoken. This instantly made them inviting targets. Yet the media crucifixion of Rangel also absolves Congress from taking any real action against other of its worst offenders.

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