Charlie Rangel Never Had a Chance

07/30/2010 01:23 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Politics is as much about ignominy as about winning. Many careers have both experiences. Charlie Rangel, one of the most successful political figures of his generation in New York, is now, in the Washington Post's estimation, a "pariah."

He's a pariah partly because--quite unable to believe he is no longer a man of far-reaching influence, a fixer of legendary power--he has down to the wire refused to get out of the way of Democratic efforts to get him out of the way.

In the end, his minor entitlements (a collection of rent-controlled apartments), his small-time tax avoidance schemes (on a house in the Dominican Republic), and a two-bit vanity project (exchanging favors in order to get a college building named after him), won't be held against him as much as his refusal to go quietly.

To me, the most interesting question may not be how he got into this fix, but at what point almost all politicians get there. Rangel, who unseated the legendary Adam Clayton Powell who was censured for reasons similar to the problems Rangel faces now, has been in Congress for 40 years. This is nearly as long as anyone has been there with effects that are not at all salutary. Could it be that any politician of unreasonable tenure falls into habits of political slough and grossness if not outright corruption?

One issue for the electorate is the value of a politician who can do his job as well as it can be done, and yet, precisely because he can do it in his sleep, is as bored with it as it is possible to be. Rangel has suffered the fate of so many ward politicians: absolute power and nowhere to go with it. Rangel is a captive New York pol--as much a caricature, and joke, as he is a success.

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