The Rangel Wrangle

The guy who wrote our tax laws can't understand them?

We at Scragged have been accused of excess cynicism in our appreciation of actress Lily Tomlin's quip, "No matter how cynical you get, you can never keep up."

Today, however, we're going to switch to sunny optimism.  This article adopts a positively Panglossian outlook on a recent political scandal, or let us, in the light of our optimistic outlook, say "misunderstanding" instead of "scandal."

Pangloss was a fictional philosopher, a main character in Voltaire's book "Candide."  It's the story of a gentle man who, though pummeled repeatedly by an unjust and uncaring fate, clings steadfastly to the belief that his is "the best of all possible worlds."

We at Scragged don't believe that the United States is the best of all possible worlds - we have offered a number of suggestions for improvement - but we do believe that it is the best of all existing nations and that the rest of the world knows this even if the MSM don't.  Far more people desire to immigrate to the United States than desire to leave, which is suggestive evidence of foreigners' true opinions about the United States.

In that vein, let's consider the wrangle about Rep. Charles B. Rangel.  In an article "House Chairman Failed to Report $75,000 in Income," the New York Times reports:

Representative Charles B. Rangel has earned more than $75,000 in rental income from a villa he has owned in the Dominican Republic since 1988, but never reported it on his federal or state tax returns, according to a lawyer for the congressman and documents from the resort.

Mr. Rangel, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which writes the federal tax code, bought the beachfront villa at the Punta Cana Yacht Club and has received twice-yearly payments from the resort, which rents the property for $500 or more per night.

Except for not telling us that Rep. Rangel is a Democrat, a highly salient fact which they chose to reserve until late in the article when they pointed out that Rep. Rangel has served on the Ways and Means Committee since 1975, the Times gave a pretty straightforward account of the situation. They also explained how the unreported income happened:

Mr. Davis said the congressman did not realize he had to declare the money as income, and was unaware of the semiannual payments from the resort because his wife, Alma, handled the family finances and conferred with their accountant, John Viardi, on tax matters. [emphasis added]

Although you might worry that we'd risk a serious case of cognitive dissonance, which is stress caused when you try to believe multiple contradictory ideas at the same time, we're going to cling firmly to our Panglossian belief that Rep. Rangel is not a crook.

Admittedly, assuming he's not a crook takes a bit of doing.

  • We have to ignore the long tradition of Harlem being represented by crooked Democrats going back to Rep. Adam Clayton Powell who held the seat from 1945 until 1971 when he was succeeded by Rep. Rangel.
  • We have to interpret in the best possible light the New York Times report that he didn't know he was not being charged any interest on the mortgage he took out to pay for the resort property.
  • The Times reported "his wife, Alma, handled the family finances."  We have to assume that her household duties are sufficiently engrossing that she couldn't cope with the family tax returns in spite of having an accountant to help her.  She's clearly not qualified to be VP in spite of her gender.
  • We have to ignore the Wall Street Journal revelation on page A2 of the Sept 10 issue which told of Rep. Rangel having three rent-controlled apartments in the same building in New York City.  New York rent control laws are among the most complex in the land.  There are platoons of building owners, some of whom are wealthy enough to hire lawyers and lobbyists to build loopholes into the law so they can raise rents.  There are armies of renters, some of whom are rich enough to hire lobbyists and lawyers to build loopholes into the law so they can keep their rent absurdly low.  There are cubicles and cubicles of housing bureaucrats who write rules to enhance their employment prospects.  Byzantium would be proud to author rules of such mind-bending complexity.
  • We have to assume that Rep. Rangel did not know that the law forbids any individual from having more than one rent controlled apartment and assume that he did not know that his income is large enough that he's not qualified for a rent controlled apartment at all.
  • We have to assume that the landlord gave Rep. Rangel multiple apartments at below market levels out of the goodness of his heart because he's simply overflowing with the milk of human kindness.  Rep. Rangel may not have known he was not entitled to the apartments, but the building owner certainly knew.  If the landlord wanted favors from Rep. Rangel, perish the thought, he'd certainly have told Rep. Rangel of the favors the landlord was giving as part of the quid pro quo.  No, we're assuming that the landlord's motives were unusually pure for New York and that he went out of his way to bend New York law because of his high esteem for Rep. Rangel.

Now that we've gotten our assumptions out of the way, where does our foray into Panglossian optimism get us?

Ron Paul and Steve Forbes are right: The IRS should be abolished.

How can we say that?  Let's consider the evidence:

  • Rep. Rangel has had a seat on the Ways and Means Committee, which writes our tax laws, since 1975.
  • Rep. Rangel is chairman of this committee and sets the committee agenda.
  • He has an accountant to help him with family tax matters.
  • He still got in trouble because he couldn't understand our tax code.

If a man who's smart enough to be elected to the US House of Representatives and who's sat on the committee that writes the tax laws for more than 30 years can't understand our tax code even with the help of a professionally-trained accountant, nobody can.

Our tax code is too complicated for mortal men.  We should abolish it and start over.  Given the evidence, Rep. Rangel should be the first in line to call for this change.

Despite calls from the New York Times and his own Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to resign his chairmanship, the Hon. Mr. Rangel insists on staying put.  This can only be because of his plans to fix the system so no other innocents less privileged than he will be caught in the same snares.

And if he doesn't, well... maybe we'll have to revisit some of our Panglossian assumptions about him.

Read other articles by Hobbes or other articles on Economics.
Reader Comments
"and that the rest of the world knows this"

Got arrogance?
September 20, 2008 4:45 PM
Not by the technical definition of arrogance. says:

"The act or habit of arrogating, or making undue claims in an overbearing manner." Note the inclusion of the word "undue," that subtle detail makes all the difference in the world. Scragged may or may not be overbearing at times, but "undue?" Not.
September 20, 2008 9:11 PM
Charlie Rangel is a crook just like Adam Powell was before him.
September 22, 2008 9:25 AM
Why do Democrats keep re-electing such notorious crooks?
September 22, 2008 10:45 AM
Rangel isn't the only crooked Democrat. This time, the NYT said the crook was a Democrat in the first paragraph.

"F.B.I. recordings of Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio, a New York State assemblyman, should be required listening for all part-time politicians. On one tape, the Democrat from Queens bemoaned the fact that people he was doing favors for "were making thousands." So he decided to become a "consultant" and get what he saw as his share of the loot."
September 22, 2008 12:23 PM
"Why do Democrats keep re-electing such notorious crooks?"

Because they care about the little people.
September 22, 2008 12:47 PM

Never undue?? Nearly faultless, in other words? That statement really does wonders for the "not arrogant" argument...

In fact, given that undue means excessive/improper/unwarranted, in saying that the rest of the world "knows" that the USA is the best, scragged is being extremely arrogant, and perpetuating some Americans' belief that everything beyond American borders is the third world. That statement was hardly warranted or proper.

And please stop with using some obscure dictionary definition as a central part of disproving someone. I looked up the site you mentioned, and the definition you used was the fifth and last definition. The first four were similar, but lacked the word undue. You don't get to pick and choose which definition applies.
September 23, 2008 9:00 AM
The Congressman, the Donor and the Tax Break
Representative Charles B. Rangel worked to protect a tax shelter for a company whose chief executive was pledging $1 million to the representative's fund-raising project.

November 25, 2008 10:16 AM

we don't. they work to re-elect themselves. they've figured out that they don't need US to get elected anymore. there are enough mindless zealots who will vote the party line. cash takes care of the rest.
November 25, 2008 11:09 AM
More from the NYT. Now that the election is over, they ask questions....

So Who Picked Up the Tab?
Speaker Nancy Pelosi should insist that the ethics investigation into Representative Charles Rangel's affairs move forward.
November 26, 2008 11:47 AM
The NYT is reporting this mess, at least. Sounds like a bribe to me. I think scragged was overly panglossian.

Rangel Pushed for a Donation; Insurer Pushed for a Tax Cut
Representative Charles B. Rangel agreed to a tax change that would benefit A.I.G. after asking it to donate to a school being built in his honor.
January 3, 2009 11:19 AM
Scraged was wrong. He's just a plain old crook!

Sinking with Mr. Rangel
For Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats, protecting Charles Rangel from his ethical messes is a grave misstep that will hand the ethics issue back to their opponents.
October 9, 2009 5:07 AM
It took them long enough, but the Times finally realized he's got to go:

Relieve the Chairman of His Gavel
Congressman Charles Rangel should be removed from his position as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.
February 28, 2010 7:24 AM
And down he goes. The House just charged him with official ethics violations:

What's next? Jail time? Impeachment? Oh, right, nothing will happen.

And he'll keep right on winning elections. Harlem doesn't care about stuff like this.
July 23, 2010 11:21 AM
The NYT reports it, too. How soon will he complain of racism on the part of the people who're judging him?

House Panel Will Try Rangel in Ethics Cases
The details of the violations have not yet been disclosed,but the finding means the Harlem Democrat must face a public trial before the House ethics committee.
July 23, 2010 7:53 PM
Well, at least they recommended a reprimand. Barney frank was reprimanded for helping his house mate fix parking tickets. Yay Pelosi and her promise to drain the swamp!

Panel Advises Reprimand, Not Expulsion, for Rangel
The congressman who led an inquiry into Representative
Charles B. Rangel's ethics said he and others recommended the relatively moderate punishment.
July 31, 2010 9:53 PM
No, I think it will be much worse than that. I think Rangel is going to be gone. Drudge ran a link earlier, saying Obama has asked Rangel to resign. Makes sense. This is yet another thing that will hurt the Dems in Nov.
August 1, 2010 7:52 AM
Add Your Comment...
4000 characters remaining
Loading question...