Rangel: I don’t deal in average American citizens

One might have thought, given all of the handwringing from Capitol Hill last night over the horrors of censuring, that Charlie Rangel would have learned a little humility from the process.  For instance, on CNN moments after Nancy Pelosi read aloud a written scolding, Mary Matalin was aghast at the notion of a public shaming, demanding that Congress find some more civilized way to punish its members for ethical transgressions.  Others, notably callers to C-SPAN during the House votes on Republican, Democratic, and New York phone lines, said that the so-called punishment Rangel endured was nothing more than a slap on the wrist and that average citizens would be facing jail sentences for failing to report income and pay taxes, among the charges for which the House found Rangel guilty.  Democrats and Republicans alike scoffed at the idea that reading a strongly-worded memo aloud amounted to any kind of deterrent punishment.

Kerry Picket of the Washington Times asked Rangel how he felt about that criticism, and Rangel showed that he hadn’t changed at all:

PICKET:There’s been criticism from the floor tonight essentially comparing you to the average American citizen, who, if they went through similar circumstances such as yourself that they may be punished in a worse way. What’s your response to that?

REP. RANGEL: What paper are you from?

PICKET: Pardon?

REP. RANGEL: What paper are you from?

PICKET: Washington Times, sir.

REP. RANGEL: What’s the question? Can you kind of make the question a little more exact? This criticism came from the floor? The floor can’t speak. Who said what?

PICKET: Well basically….

REP. RANGEL: What is the question?

PICKET: I’m just asking what is your response to criticism that if the average American citizen. Someone who is not a congressman

REP. RANGEL:Please, I’m not a psychiatrist. I don’t deal in average American citizens. Citizens are diverse. They are broad. I don’t know what is average, and so I don’t really agree… I’ll come back to you when you think of a good question.

Well, how about this for a definition of “average”: not in Congress?  That question didn’t just come from the floor.  It came from every corner of the US that doesn’t include Capitol Hill.

Matalin is correct in one sense; the House needs another form of punishment, one that fits in the range between strongly-worded memos spoken aloud and expulsion.  Anyone who thinks that a public scolding is some sort of cruel and unusual punishment for corruption and ethics violations has marinated in Beltway stew a little too long.