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The Rangel Wrangle

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

By Hobbes  |  September 19, 2008

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.

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:

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.