Race Card Payment Coming Due

"The race card is maxed out."

That was the punch line for a recent hilarious exchange on The Daily Show in which Larry Wilmore, the faux news program's "senior black correspondent," reported that the race card is not only over its credit limit but is in fact "void during a black presidency." This discovery came in the wake of Maxine Waters's allegation that her political problems stem from a racially biased congressional ethics investigation.

Wilmore said he should have seen this coming, given that "the Congressional Black Caucus has been overusing the race card for years." Like when it circled the wagons around Rep. William Jefferson. The CBC in effect argued it'd have been no big deal if a white congressman had been videotaped receiving a $100,000 bribe and if the FBI then found most of it in his freezer. Singling out a black congressman for this sort of thing, Wilmore joked, amounts to punishing Jefferson for "Legislating While Black."

But the culprit here isn't racism, it's the corruption that is almost inevitable when any politician--black or white--is given a job for life.

Of course, Wilmore (a great comic talent) is joking, but not everyone is laughing. Waters, the representative for South Central Los Angeles since 1991, is one of America's premier racial hucksters. A notoriously nasty piece of work, she sided with the murderous rioters in what she called the post-Rodney King-verdict "rebellion" and danced the Electric Slide with the Crips and the Bloods. (Who says she's not bipartisan?) So it's hardly surprising that she'd lump all of her problems on Whitey.

In Aesop's Fables, the scorpion must sting the frog because that is what scorpions do. In real life, Waters must blame her problems on, well, you know who.

Waters is alleged to have offered special help for OneUnited, a minority-owned bank where her husband served on the board until April 2008. Her husband owned roughly $350,000 worth of OneUnited stock. If it hadn't gotten bailed out by the Treasury Department, the bank would have gone under. Waters told Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, about the potential conflict of interest, and Frank--not everyone's idea of a scrupulous ethicist to begin with--told her she should stay clear of it. She ignored his advice and allegedly helped secure OneUnited $12 million in TARP money, saving the value of her husband's bank shares. Waters says it's all a misunderstanding since she was barely involved. She merely outsourced most of the work to her chief of staff, a.k.a. her grandson.

She insists she won't be anyone's "sacrificial lamb" and points to the fact that eight members of the Congressional Black Caucus have been subject to ethics investigations--which she and many in the CBC suggest is no coincidence.

And they're right.

But the culprit here isn't racism, it's the corruption that is almost inevitable when any politician--black or white--is given a job for life. Charlie Rangel, the 80-year-old deposed chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, is also in ethical hot water for a list of reasons too lengthy to recount here (but they include failure to pay taxes on unreported income--awkward, given that he was, until recently, in charge of writing the tax laws). Rangel, one of Washington's most charming characters, ran his office like a pasha--because he could.

Indeed, that's long been the problem with the CBC: its scandalous lack of accountability. Because of racial gerrymandering (cynically abetted by the GOP in the 1980s), black representatives have been insulated, even more than other incumbents, from democratic competition. Worse, the older generation of CBCers in particular actually believes this claptrap about being the "conscience of the Congress" (the Caucus motto). This has put the CBC to the left not just of the average voter but of the average black voter. Less than 10 percent of the CBC voted to ban partial-birth abortion in 2003, even though a majority of blacks support the ban. A majority of blacks oppose racial quotas and support school choice, but the CBC claims to speak for them when taking the opposite positions.

Caucus members pulled this off by invoking racial solidarity and Tammany Hall tactics in their districts, while maxing out the race card with the media and their non-black colleagues in Congress. And that's what Waters and Rangel are doing now, the former explicitly, the latter implicitly. Both are demanding an immediate trial, before the November elections, which would hammer even more nails into the Democratic coffin. In effect, they're saying, "Let us off the hook or we'll take you all down with us in a racial spectacle."

Meanwhile, Republicans are laughing. Even the ones who don't watch The Daily Show.

Jonah Goldberg is a visiting fellow at AEI.

Photo Credit: vgm8383/Flickr/Creative Commons

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