When it comes to Rep. Charles Rangel, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is a bit of a wuss. Even though Rangel, the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, has been dogged by his unseemly failure to list many of his assets on financial disclosure forms — so much so that even the Washington Post has called for him to yield his chairmanship — Pelosi apparently is unwilling to oust him. She is concerned that booting Rangel will upset members of the Congressional Black Caucus, and she also is concerned that she doesn’t really have any good candidates to replace him.
Why don’t politicians just ‘fess up? In reality, they don’t care about ethics — at least, not about the ethical lapses of the people on their team. Ethics is hauled out only when it is a problem for the other party; it is disregarded when enforcing ethical behavior involves any meaningful political cost. If Nancy Pelosi won’t enforce ethical behavior when a powerful Congressman grossly flouts his disclosure obligations, then she isn’t much of a Speaker. And, if the Democrats don’t take meaningful action against Rangel, then they will have no credibility the next time they protest when, as will inevitably be the case, a Republican is found to have acted unethically.