Rangel to America -- Drop Dead

Poor Charlie Rangel. Like a lifetime cigarette smoker, Rangel has an addiction to power because he’s been “smoking” it for four decades. His addiction is so bad that he threw himself a birthday party/fundraiser Wednesday night. His actual birthday is June 11, but like the Queen of England, he observes it when he wishes.

The New York Times description of the event was a portrait in arrogance: from former New York City Mayor David Dinkins "flipping the bird" to a heckler who asked him if he wasn’t aware he was attending a party for a “crook” to the location itself. All that was missing was Rangel channeling Richard Nixon who, shortly before resigning thirty-six years ago this month, famously said, “I am not a crook.”

Many big names in New York politics were there, including Governor David Paterson, Attorney General and candidate for governor, Andrew Cuomo, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Dionne Warwick sang, “That’s what friends are for.” Yes, politicians tend to hang together. I suppose that’s so they won’t hang separately, to paraphrase Ben Franklin.

Rangel, along with fellow Democrat, Rep Maxine Waters of California, who is also accused of violating House ethics rules, has become a major embarrassment for the Party, which had promised to be more ethical than the Republican majority they replaced.

Rangel’s rambling speech on the House floor this week – he was advised against it by his attorneys and House colleagues – was another reminder of what happens to people who stay too long in Congress.

The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza had it right: "Rangel's unwillingness to step aside puts House Democrats in a very tight spot. If Rangel wants a trial, a trial he will get. And, that trial will come less than two months before voters head to the ballot box this fall -- a disastrous bit of electoral timing for a party already swimming upstream against a difficult national environment."

Voters may have short memories but they are not stupid (well, most of them). In order for Republicans to take advantage of the Rangel scandal (and that of Rep. Maxine Waters), they are going to have to come up with something akin to an abstinence pledge. Given the GOP’s own ethical problems the last time they held power, nothing less will suffice.

The problem in Washington isn’t the party that holds power. The problem in Washington is Washington and how it operates. If Republicans can come up with a cure for the deadly disease known as “Potomac Fever” they might rule for decades.

Cal Thomas is America's most widely-syndicated newspaper columnist and a Fox News contributor. His commentary appears frequently in the FoxNews.com Opinion section.

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