Sunday, December 05, 2010

The Happy (Influence) Peddler

David Broder reminds us how much the world he loves has changed. Oh, sure, Charlie Rangel deserved to be censured but, just s when Dan Rostenkowski fell to corruption charges, it's a sad day nonetheless.
I think I can tell you why. The pursuit of power is what brings people into politics, and some of them pursue it with a grim determination never to be outmaneuvered. You can stand back and watch them work, but there seems to be no joy in them - or in the spectacle they provide. It's a deadly serious business, this fundraising, vote-counting, always manipulating treadmill, for the Tom DeLays and the Nancy Pelosis of this world.
Perhaps it's worthy of note that Tom DeLay was recently convicted of money laundering? You would think that would merit mention under the circumstances, although that might say a bit too much about Broder, "It's not the corruption that bothers me, or even the conviction - it's that he was so grim." Influence peddling, it seems, should make you happy.
What was different about Rangel and Rostenkowski was the sheer joy with which they played the game and the way they would let you know that, whatever the policy stakes, a game is what it was to them.

How did they let you know? They would analyze their own motives with the same disarming candor they brought to their calculations of their colleagues' maneuvers.
Somehow I think Broder means something different than, "They openly admitted that pretty much everybody in Congress is, at some level, for sale," but that's nonetheless a reasonable interpretation.

Broder tells us,
I remember conversations with [Rangel] when he was engaged in what may have been his greatest coup: helping free Hillary Clinton from the confines of the East Wing and converting her into a successful Senate candidate in New York.

The number of people who were determined to keep that from happening were legion, both in Washington and New York. But Rangel knew them all, and he knew how to get around them - by co-opting or by mowing them down, whatever was required. And he loved every minute of this game - which he played for unselfish purposes, not to expand his own influence.
Let me get this straight - the evidence David Broder offers of Rangel's selflessness is that he helped one of the most politically connected people in the world become a United States Senator, happily pulling in chits, trading favors and bulldozing obstacles along the way? And Broder knows that Rangel had no expectation that he would benefit from his ongoing relationship with President Clinton and his political supporters, let alone any future benefit from his relationship with Senator Clinton? And we know all of this simply because... that's the way Broder spins the story? Why am I left less than completely satisfied....

Meanwhile, Broder assures us, people like Rostenkowski and Charlie Rangel aren't greedy (don't be deceived by your lying eyes). Broder's explanation?
Often, they were just sloppy about the demands of the new era of politics.
Which apparently involves the unrealistic expectation that you'll be reasonably honest in your financial dealings and disclosures, and not commit any felonies on the job? The horror.

Broder informs us,
And [Rostenkowski] always hugely enjoyed the game he was part of - never burdened by whether it was negotiating with the Treasury secretary or regaling his pals late at night at his favorite steak and bourbon joint.
How often, I wonder, was Broder among those pals? And who picked up the tab?

Dana Milbank shares a different perspective, that we have "A House full of Rangels".
The rules governing members' behavior were proven so lax as to be irrelevant. The vast majority of transgressors are never punished - Rangel was penalized only because he himself asked the ethics committee to investigate some of the allegations against him.

To be sure, Rangel deserved punishment for his wrongdoing, which included failing to pay taxes on his beach house in the Dominican Republic and improperly using his office for charitable fundraising. But in the 30 minutes allotted to him for his defense on the House floor Thursday evening, Rangel and his friends made a compelling case that he was being punished for doing things that lawmakers do routinely.

"The only examples of anybody sanctioned for tax matters in this House in the history of the United States have been those who didn't pay taxes on bribes they received," Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) argued in Rangel's defense. Several members had a chuckle over their laxity.
The most telling Congressional whining came from Rep. Peter King:
And Rep. Peter King (N.Y.), one of the few Republicans to oppose censure for Rangel, implored his colleagues to "step back" and reconsider. "Let us apply the same standard of justice to Charlie Rangel that has been applied to everyone else, and that all of us would want applied to ourselves."
It's really difficult to read that as something other than, "I'm in huge trouble if somebody pokes around for the skeletons in my closet - and many of you are, as well." But buck up, Members of Congress - if you can learn to revel in the sheer joy of influence peddling, no matter what that involves, even if you're caught and convicted you can count on David Broder to write a glowing obituary for your Congressional career.


  1. "Obituary" - I'm guessing that most Congressman caught-up in ethics scandals pay the same heavy price at the polls that Rangel did . . . which is to say "none".


  2. "... even if you're caught and convicted..."

    Granted, a big "if".

  3. Re: ". . . caught and convicted . . " - I'm guessing a good number of Congressmen fall into the Marion Barry (and yes, I know he was a Mayor) camp where after serving their jail time they are promptly returned to office . . .

    Two random thoughts:

    1) "Censure" vs "Reprimand" vs "aren't they both just a slap on the wrist when he's already lost his chairmanship?" How much "valuable" time did the Congress waste fighting about that issue? (Although I did particularly enjoy hearing Rangel and his defenders blame "politics" for his "excessive punishment".

    2) How the heck can you spend $2M on a law firm and "run out of money" before they manage to defend you in what amounts to an administrative hearing? What did they spend the money on? "Forensic Experts" to pour over . . . his tax returns? Private Investigators to look into whether or not their client . . . really owned the property he admits to owning?


  4. I heard somebody explain the difference between censure and reprimand.

    "A reprimand is harsh looks. Censure is harsh looks with finger-wagging."

    Do you recall how much money was spent by the various players in the Anna Nicole Smith paternity litigation? Hundreds of thousands of dollars for celebrity lawyers who spent a small fortune on first class travel and accommodations (for themselves) and charged huge flat fees for what a reasonable lawyer would probably have deemed a $500 service - "Here's how the buccal cheek swab will work and here's what we can do if we disagree with the result."

  5. Yeah - they cheated the estate out of hundreds of thousands of dollars - but this is worse.

    Not only because it is $2M but because the law firms were local - and they didn't even have expensive DNA experts to pay off . . .