My wife doesn’t watch much television, but she has an affinity for English detective shows. Having heard rave reviews (all warranted) about Foyle’s War we began to watch the series which is broadcast on PBS. This past weekend we saw the final episode which takes place as World War 2 is ending. The murderer is running for Parliament—as well as being a murderer, he has also stayed out of the war by faking a heart condition. Near the end of episode, Foyle dryly observes to the captured suspect, “Having evaded the draft, murdered a member of the medical profession, tried to avoid detection to feather your own nest, I’d have said you were a born politician. But, the Law being what it is, hanging is perhaps the very best way you can serve your country.”
Foyle’s character is absolutely unimpeachable—as such, he has no use for arrogant bureaucrats and politicians who cheat, compromise, and put their own career above the public and the law. I make no claim to be as flawless a character as Foyle, but I do share his disgust for most politicians.
The morning after we watched the episode, The New York Times reported that Congressman Charles Rangel “paid no interest for more than a decade on a mortgage extended to him to buy a villa at a beachfront resort in the Dominican Republic.” Rangel, who continually advocates and votes for higher taxes for the rest of us, “earned more than $75,000 in rent on the vacation home since 1988” and paid no taxes on the rental income.
This is not the first time that Rangel has made the news as one of our more visibly corrupt politicians. In July, we learned that he was leasing, from a prominent real estate developer, four New York City rent-stabilized apartments, including one he used as a campaign office. This was in violation of New York State law which limits these plum units, which can rent for thousands under the market price, to one for a primary residence. Rangel has defiantly given up only one of the apartments; he has vowed to keep the other three.
We further learned this summer that Rangel, who is chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, has been shaking down corporations who have business before his committee for contributions to his “monument to me”—the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at the City College of New York. Before shaking down corporations, Rangel had begun with the taxpayers who coughed up almost $2 million for his building that, among other things, will house this “great” man’s papers.
When a two-term congressman objected to Rangel’s center, he retorted: “I would have a problem if you did it, because I don’t think that you’ve been around long enough . . . to inspire a building like this in a school.” In other words, to Rangel, this is just one more perk of the job that seniority earns. And some agree, such as New York Sun editor Seth Lipsky who wrote: “In Europe, they’d have given him a castle and a realm.”
Presumably, Lipsky means that Rangel deserves a reward for his great deeds. But I wonder if Lipsky can name one great deed. Of course, while enriching himself, Rangel has posed as a champion of the poor and downtrodden.
Milton Friedman used to say of politicians: “They came to do good and they ending up doing well.” Friedman gives politicians too much credit. The implication is that originally they were honest, but then they were corrupted by the system.
If Rangel was truly interested in helping the poor, I can think of many ways he could have helped. Perhaps instead of illegally occupying apartments, he could have been a low-cost housing developer. Instead of building a monument to himself, he could opened a discount supermarket in a poor area. If he preferred a more anonymous life, he could have volunteered in a soup kitchen. And if his talents were such, he could have invented something that would have improved the lives of millions.
Instead, Rangel has chosen to enrich himself at the expense of the taxpayers. We have only ourselves to blame. Charles Hugh Smith observes:
Look around; why are the politicians who pander most and pander best the ones who get re-elected? Why is the most visibly ludicrous and false posturing accepted with nary a complaint, and the mainstream media/CNBC/Fox propaganda sucked up like a sugar-free soda? What are we so afraid of? That we can no longer work, or cut our own path, or deal with challenges that require long-term thinking and sacrifice?
Rangel’s almost 40 years in the House, feeding at the public trough, would make the founding fathers sick. They envisioned a government served by individuals of accomplishment, who would serve the public for a short time at a sacrifice to themselves, before resuming their normal life.
Imagine this—a Cato Institute study found that “it was 1900 before the average number of terms served by House members exceeded two.” Doug Bandow further writes:
Average turnover during the Republic’s first century was 43 percent; more than a third of members simply retired of their own accord, to resume previous professions or develop new ones. Not until 1900 did electoral turnover fall below 30 percent. And total turnover was occasionally staggering: 76 percent in 1842, 63.8 percent in 1852, 63.7 percent in 1816, 62 percent in 1854, and 61.5 percent in 1862.(67) Back then, elections were heavily policy driven—disgusted voters would transform Congress in one election if angry over Federalist opposition to the War of 1812, passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, the compromise over slavery in the Kansas territories, the Republican party’s prosecution the Civil War, or any number of other serious issues. Even in the second half of the 19th century, turnover averaged 50.2 percent.
Term limits are one way to deter career politicians, but I can think of others. Make it impossible for them to earn more than a Congressional salary. If campaign money could not be used for personal advantage and it was impossible to place family members in plum positions that would be a beginning. Then zealously prosecute any advantage (interest free loans, etc.) that any Congressman receives. Many of the current Congress would quickly pack their bags and leave. They can then write their memoirs explaining all the good they came to do.