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Rangel's buffoonery will help Republicans

There's a lot to be angry over the likelihood that the New York State Legislature will again gerrymander new congressional and state districts to protect shiftless political friends.

But here's one good use for contorted redistricting: Put Manhattan House Democrat Charlie Rangel out of business by stretching his new district up the Hudson into Putnam County. If Albany Democrats stumbled into virtue -- for once -- it would also be smart.

That's because national Republicans will squeeze plenty of benefit from Rangel's buffoonery. Not only is Rangel their poster boy for all that is wrong with New York, and the biggest icon of the welfare state and black victimhood, but also a prosperous, swaggering shark who brandishes his House censure as a certificate of innocence.

Most dangerously for Democrats, he has carved out for himself the role of media weather vane on the re-election prospects of President Obama, who ardently wants to divorce himself from all that Rangel really symbolizes.

Rangel can't stop talking unless he's cornered by a prosecutor. In an interview with the Hill newspaper last week, Harlem's multiple offender said of Obama, "I think he has rehabilitated" (sic) with the party's left wing.

That's because of so-called successes in the lame-duck session. Rangel announced a primary challenge of Obama from the left is now unlikely. He made more news. Rangel appealed for money for his legal defense fund. Tapping into a diseased vein of 1960s-era self-pity that still has a tremendous tug on some dependent neighborhoods, Rangel said he still must defend himself against "unsubstantiated charges" by the National Legal Policy Committee.

Rangel said the committee is anti-union and anti-minority, a contention that his enemies now and eternally have been rich white guys. Al Sharpton sounded this theme at Rangel's birthday party when he said the House Ethics Committee finding that Rangel was guilty of 13 rules violations was a racial "crucifixion." Then-Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo chimed in saying "Charlie has always carried the banner for people who have been long left behind and forgotten." Charlie has been for Charlie. His 40 years of congressional "service" have left him with property all over the New York metro and the Caribbean, more foreign luxury cars than he can use and a clothes rack that would befit a partner of Goldman Sachs & Co.

Hoping to nudge Rangel off the stage, Obama last year called the charges against Rangel "serious" and suggested he retire "with dignity." Rangel shot back that Obama "hasn't been around long enough to know what my dignity is." Not only is Rangel bigger than the president, but he's worth others sacrificing themselves for.

When the Ethics Committee finally brought charges against him, Rangel hid behind the Congressional Black Caucus. When the House voted to censure Rangel, black caucus members gave Rangel a standing ovation on the House floor. Count on Republicans to use that video to defeat Democrats next year. Can there be any doubt that the simmering Rangel scandal played a role in electing the new GOP House majority?

As the leading image-maker here for New York Democrats, after Sen. Charles Schumer, of course, the derision chasing Rangel will certainly cast a negative tone on Democratic efforts to pass bailouts for New York and other debt-ridden states.

Even so, Rangel is busy recasting his embarrassment. In his new fund-raising appeal, Rangel says he draws "satisfaction" that the Ethics Committee found that none of the violations "included corruption, intent, self-dealing, self-enrichment or quid pro quos."

The committee said no such thing. Rangel was just too busy shaking down corporations and too busy to account for all his riches. Presidents come and go, but Charlie, like the big banks, is just too big to fail. He begins his 21st term on Tuesday.

e-mail: dturner@buffnews.com

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