The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

There’s something about Rep. Charles Rangel (D – NY 15th District) that, well, let’s say, is colorful.  He’s never been a person to mince words or observe the finer points of the Internal Revenue Code as his 2011 censure by Congress will attest.  He is also the third longest serving member in Congress and he happens to be darkly complected.

When I think about Charlie Rangel I am always reminded of the story about the man who was speaking to the village idiot:

Man:  “You are without a doubt the stupidest person I’ve ever met.  How did you get that way?”

Idiot:  “Well, I can guarantee you it didn’t happen overnight.”

Charlie Rangel has had 42 years to hone his craft on Capitol Hill and his picture should appear next to any thoughtful argument dealing with the merits of term limits.  Only a Congressional ethics investigation impeded his becoming the Chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee.  Those are the people who spend the money that we send to Washington – plus an additional 20% or even more in a really good year.

Rep. Rangel is back in the limelight over some comments he made the other day regarding the Tea Party.  You’ll remember them as being the people whose applications for tax exempt status were held up for deliberate political reasons by the IRS.

To quote the Congressman, “It is the same group we faced in the south with those white crackers and the dogs and the police.”

Not to dispute the Congressman – but that group that he and other civil rights activists faced in the ‘60’s are probably long dead or at the least they are octogenarians.  I haven’t seen any pictures of Tea Party activities wherein the participants were in wheel chairs with special cup holders to house their dentures.

But let’s return to the statement about “white crackers”.  Every reference (and I looked up seven) refers to the term as an “offensive slur”.  In other words, it is an overtly racial derogatory remark.  Has there been any outburst from the white community demanding the Congressman’s entrails?  Not that I’ve heard.  Nor would one expect that there would be.

The same term, you will recall was apparently used by Trayvon Martin in his description of George Zimmerman – at least according to the prosecution’s star witness.  Once again – there were no expressions of outrage by American whites, no marches, no protests.  This should lead all of us to ask, why do American whites not respond to racial epithets in the same volatile way as American blacks?

I think there is a simple yet profound explanation – one which speaks to the heart of this issue and to the great divide which separates us.  It all boils down to self-image.

It is extremely easy and rather alluring to advance the argument that blacks have been denied opportunity simply because of their skin color.  And it would be naïve to argue that in many cases that is not true.  But this argument assumes that black Americans have uniquely been denied opportunities which have always been open to those who came from Europe and were white.  Any review of the history of immigration to this country will rapidly disprove the validity of that theory.

The Dutch weren’t happy when the English showed up.  Neither of them was too keen on the Germans – and when the Irish made it here they were all concerned that the country was on the road to hell.  Thank heaven for the Italians and the Eastern Europeans.  Now there was a whole new collection of people  that everyone else could look down on.

All of these people came here and ultimately assimilated in what was the great melting pot.  It wasn’t always sweetness and light and there were skirmishes and battles that were fought based on a person’s ethnicity.  But somehow those managed to work themselves out.  The days of seeing a banner over a club that said German-American or Italian-American are long past.  And it was accomplished by the people themselves – without either the benefit or hindrance of government involvement.

There has never been a Polish-American, a Polynesian-American, a German-American or any other kind of (Fill In The Blank)-American caucus in Congress other than an African-American (Black) one.  And if there is merit to the Congressman’s argument that racism is alive and well in this country, he should ask himself why, when a white applicant asked to be admitted to that caucus, he was declined membership.  He should know the answer, I would hope, as he has been involved in the Black Congressional Caucus from its inception.

Racism, like any form of hatred, is a disease.  It is virulent and contagious.  And like all diseases, given the right environment it will spread and become a plague.  What the Congressman may not realize is that if it gets out of control, there is no one who is immune from its toxic effects – not even those who are the carriers.

That’s something which even the village idiot should be able to understand.



  1. “Why did we put the idiot in charge?”

    “WE” didn’t. It was a (small) majority of the idiots in his district who did. Underscoring for the nth time that all politics are local (even if the money isn’t), and the main reason why I argue that voting should be made mandatory for the entire voting-age population…especially in the primaries…for it is there/then when a tiny fraction of the population decides who will appear on the ballot that appears before the general population for a vote.

    Dramatically increase the number (and diversity) of primary and general election participants and you will likely see an equally dramatic change in the end results.

    Hopefully for the better. 😉

    • I certainly agree with you that politics is a local affair – as I think did the Founding Fathers in the way they saw the role of Congressional representatives as compared to the role of those we elected to the Senate.

      I also agree with you that the way our primaries are presently structured, a very small number of participants determine who is on the ballot for the general election – in which more voters wil participate. (Actually, an even smaller number of party officials most often determine who will be on that primary ballot). However, I would suggest in cities like Chicago (and in areas that have their Republican counterparts), the primary is the election – and the general is a mere formality.

      But I have to concur with NEO in his statement that the information level of most voters is abysmal. I don’t see how by increasing the number of voters who are equally poorly informed that will ensure a greater diversity of people whom we elect.

      Some time ago I suggested in a post that we ought to restrict voting to people who could pass the same test we give to foreigners to see if they know enough about our country and form of government to attain citizenship. A simple 10 question test with six correct answers required for passing. If we expect that of people applying for citizenship – is it too much to expect the same level of proficiency from those who by accident of birth are already priviliged in that way?

      To your issue of compulsory voting – I would say that had that been in place, those voters who stayed home and did not vote for Romney, for whatever reason, would have held their noses and cast their ballots and we would probably have had someone else in the White House today.

  2. I wish I could agree with him, Mr. Lawson that is. the information level of the average voter is ridiculously low now, mandatory voting would only make it worse. We’d be better off to restrict voting to those that have paid net federal income tax, after all they are the ones paying for this circus.

    Other than that, Rangel (and others like him) want, as near as I can tell, a race war, and if we are very unlucky they could get one, which would be very sad and ugly, and they will lose, badly. They need to sit down and shut up before they convince a bunch of punks to get really stupid (on both sides).

    MLK came very close to solving this, if he had lived and kept control of the movement it would, I think, be in the past where it belongs. The charlatans that took over have figured out that race hustling provides them with a very good living off of the poor, without doing anything useful. It’s such a pity.

  3. Paragraph one – My version of your restrictions in my response to Mr. Lawson.

    Paragraph two – I am afraid you are right.

    Paragraph three – If the FDA regulated the sale of “snake oil” all these race hawkers might be out of business.

  4. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all of us with our collective hangups could get over them and recognize that underneath our skins we are the same and all want basically the same thing, food, shelter, clothing, a place to sleep at nights in a secure environment and self-actualization.

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