Wednesday, March 03, 2010

"No" Country for Old Men

Jim Bunning and Charles Rangel, with nothing in common but well-styled silver hair, took over the Congressional spotlight this week by refusing to "go gentle into that night."

The 79-year-old Bunning, called one of America's Five Worst Senators by Time Magazine and described by Bill Clinton as "so mean-spirited he repulsed even fellow know-nothings," made his last hurrah by single-handedly holding up for five days a bipartisan temporary extension of funding for unemployment benefits, doctors' Medicare payments and highway workers' salaries, among other uncontroversial purposes.

If Bunning dominated the media with his cantankerous, Tea Party-friendly display in the Senate before finally shutting up and sitting down yesterday, in the House another politician of his age, Charles Rangel, is about to be stripped of power after four decades of flamboyant service extending from the Watergate hearings through publicly questioning the mental status of Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin.

He is about to lose his job as chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee after being found guilty by the House Ethics Committee of taking corporate-sponsored trips, just the tip of an iceberg of corruption charges still ahead of him.

Bunning, who parlayed All-Star baseball fame into a political career, is the polar opposite of Rangel, a Korean War veteran who became a Harlem wheeler-dealer of the kind that dominated African-American representation in Washington during the pre-Obama era.

As late as last week, at the Blair House health care summit, Rangel was making an earnest plea for the poor while standing out from other attendees in the attire of an opulent pimp.

Stepping down "temporarily," he is still holding on by his polished fingernails, but the writing is on Nancy Pelosi's wall that Rangel is about to become a lame duck just as surely as Jim Bunning is a dead duck in Washington.

Other, more modernly bland types will take their places but, at heart, will they be morally superior to the near-octogenarians who are saying their final no's in the Capitol this week?

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