I have great respect for Ben Stein, but this attitude of forgiveness towards those who betray the peoples’ trust is not merely wrong, but dangerous and a contradiction with the principles of liberty.
Mr. Stein, in a cbs.com opinion, pleads for leniency based on Rangel’s military service, but liberty actually demands severity in all such instances and prior military service is no mitigating factor. The American soldier risks all he has and all she could ever have defending a nation uniquely built on an idea: power diffused among the people rather than consolidated in government offers the greatest prospects for man’s happiness on Earth. The American congressman is sworn to uphold those ideals in the letter and spirit of The Constitution.
Positions of national service in government office have become too highly coveted in America, yet the soldier’s position of service is not. True it is that the soldier today is a volunteer, but nobody forfeits a vast personal fortune to acquire the opportunity to sacrifice life and limb for his country. Why people do so to “serve” the country in Congress is a question well worth contemplating.
A government of, by and for the People cannot be so unless those elected to office reject the air of a superior above the subjects and the laws, entitled to spoils and perquisites not specifically intended. But an office in the US Congress holds tremendous power, and always accompanying that power is the high temptation to wield it for personal gain. Once that line is breached with impunity, precedent and example set in, two parents sure to spawn more of the same greater in both scale and frequency. The roots of power and its corruption spread in all directions and result in what we see today: a vast network of influence peddling, favoritism and illegitimate privilege for those who make their way into the clique, to the detriment of the “lower class” ruled over simply because they acquiesce.
Thus it is that congressional office has such high responsibility. The potential to do so much harm is so very real, so tempting, so personally gratifying. And time is an enemy. Like the ring Froto Baggins carried for his brotherhood and Bilbo held before him, the power of office in a limited government is a toxin too great for nearly any man to withstand, and the longer it is held the greater will be its transformative effect on even the best of men.
The prized nature of public office has become the reality in American government because the people have lost the spirit of liberty and an understanding of its principles. Politicians have not changed all that much because human nature has not changed. It is the people’s ignorance of liberty, including but not limited to the tolerance of broken trust – that deserves indictment as much as does Rangel himself.
Mr. Rangel apparently served the nation valiantly as a soldier long ago. But in his latter role, one that can do far more enduring damage than any good a single soldier can do (and the soldier is often a monumental example of high ideal), he spent years forging the persona of greed and avarice in government. The example must be made. It is necessary, and too long overdue.
Senator John McCain, another great warrior turned politician, once fell over himself honoring and praising one of his Washington colleagues for his service to the nation, when it occurred to me that this praise was premature and cheaply, if not gratuitously, given. These people today vie for office with fortunes and viciousness completely alien to most of their constituencies. Altruism can rarely if ever the motive, and neither praise nor honor are warranted merely by their occupation of the office they so desperately desired.
When a congressman’s career can be accounted in full and found to have been performed solely in the people’s interest, when he or she is prepared to return to a private life subservient to the same laws enacted for the rest of us, then and only then should they receive the praise and honor that would be richly deserved. Until that day, they are but suspects to be watched with vigilance and disciplined with exampled cold detachment. Only in this way can the people preserve a government of, by and for the people. If this is not your attitude, then you do not have the spirit of liberty within you. Vengeance is necessary to the preservation of liberty.
So if we condemn Charlie Rangel, as we must, it is equally appropriate that we the people share some culpability for keeping him in his position for so long. The propensity towards corruption increases with time for any person in a position of power. It is a natural human trait, the recognition of which is a fundamental tenet of our founding and system of government. One might even argue that there is some hypocrisy in it, that we ourselves through tolerance and neglect created the tragic hero in the ballad of Charlie Rangel, who now stands judged.
Extremely rare is the man capable of resisting the intoxicating conditions of power over a lifetime, and this shows the wisdom of term limits and frequent rotation of those who govern over us. If this is not also your attitude, then again, you have not the spirit of liberty within you.
Only when the burden outweighs the reward will public office and its holder both have true honor again. As long as we lack the will to quickly and resolutely punish then remove those who govern and betray us, the spirit of liberty, like liberty itself, will remain an endangered species.