Thanks to Iraq and Abramoff, the Democrats have an unexpected, and slim, hope of retaking the House this fall. The prospect of having one last shot at Ways and Means is so tantalizing that it’s helping stoke Rangel’s agitation. And the predicament would make Rangel a purely sympathetic character, if he weren’t lashing out at fellow Democrats.
“In a couple of weeks, this won’t even show up on the radar screen,” Rangel says of the spat over David Paterson. He’s right. But that comment is another indication of what’s dispiriting about the twilight of Rangel. The man has done great good in his career. Now he’s been eclipsed in Washington, in legislative creativity and career potential, by newbies like Barack Obama and Harold Ford Jr. So Rangel expends tremendous energy on maneuvering and posturing. This is the Rangel who showed up at City Hall in October, the star attraction at a Bloomberg press conference hyping a new minority construction-job initiative—and diluted some rare, desperately needed momentum for Ferrer, who was flogging Bloomberg for ducking the Apollo Theater debate. That day, Rangel attributed his appearance to statesmanship; he didn’t need to state the obvious, that Bloomberg was a lock to win reelection. But if the Democrats somehow retake the House in November, it would be a double boon to New York: Ways and Means chairman Rangel would send us plenty of pork. And he’d finally be fully occupied again in D.C.