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Charlie Rangel shouldn’t resign (at least not yet)

New York representative Charlie Rangel spoke with emotion and at length on the floor of the House yesterday, giving what some describe as a “trainwreck” of a speech.

Rangel faces accusations of corruption: for violating congressional rules for soliciting donations for a City College of New York named after him; using a rent-stabilized apartment for a campaign office; failing to report income from renting his Dominican Republic property; and other ethics violations. Behind the scenes, it is reported that President Obama and other Democrats have urged Rangel to resign. They worry that Rangel will be a negative advertisement for their party in the run-up to the November midterm elections.

In his speech, Rangel let it be known he wouldn’t resign. “I am not going away. I am here,” said Rangel. “You’re not going to tell me to resign to make you feel comfortable.” Many Democrats cringed. Rangel went on and on, and it became a popular video (a link to an excerpt is here, but I warn you, it’s five-plus minutes in your life you'll never get back).  Moreover, Rangel was exactly the distraction Democrats feared: his theatrics overshadowed the bill the House had passed for extra stimulus spending to maintain jobs for teachers, police and firefighters.

Rangel may be guilty of the charges, I don’t know. And his speech was awkward (especially the references to himself in the third person). But I have to say that, on the whole, I find his defiance impressive. Too often today politicians resign so as to avoid embarrassment for the party. But corruption charges fly around far too easily – they’ve become part of the day-to-day partisan weaponry – and individual politicians just seem to wilt. Rangel shows that he cares about his reputation, and that is more “dignified” than just giving up and resigning.  At a minimum, due process suggests that he should have his case aired.

And as far as the implications for party politics, it would in fact be a good thing if some politicians exhibited backbone, and at the same time showed to the public that many of the corruption claims are actually baseless and/or trivial.

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