Ted Stevens and Charles Rangel

A tragic plane crash in Alaska took the life of longtime Senator Ted Stevens. Meanwhile, a metaphorical tragic train wreck is taking place in Harlem as Charles Rangel fights for his political life.

In both cases, there is much cause for sadness. While the loss of a human life trumps everything else, I find these two men intertwined today. I am genuinely sad, and have so many questions that I know will never be answered.

Nine people were on the Alaska plane including Senator Stevens, former NASA Chief Sean O’Keefe, and Mr. O’Keefe’s son. Senator Stevens died. Both of the O’Keefes lived.


We will never know. For those who believe in God, did God arbitrarily spin a roulette wheel and let fate decide? Did God make intentional decisions?

For those who are atheist or agnostic, was this just chance?

We will never know why a plane crashed, several people died, and others lived.

I fly very frequently. My Rabbi has often said that “There is no such thing as an atheist on a turbulent plane.”

Everything is fragile, but why do some people suffer more than others? Ted Stevens lost his first wife in a plane crash in 1978. Isn’t one such tragedy per family enough?

(This makes the legacy of the Kennedy family even more eerie.)

While I wish the deepest of condolences for the Stevens family, I wonder why he had to die before such glowing tributes could be offered.

Remember, one year ago he was a corrupt former Senator who left in disgrace. Then months later he was exonerated when the conviction was thrown out due to prosecutorial misconduct.

(Today is not the day to analyze the case. I have no idea.)

What if he died before being exonerated? This matters greatly because history matters.

This brings me to the saga of Charles Rangel.

I have been fairly tough on Rangel. I believe he has been corrupt for a long time. Yet if he were to die tomorrow (of course I am not wishing that), people would mention other things.

For one thing, Congressman Rangel is a war hero. He served his country honorably in Korea. This cannot and should not ever be forgotten.

Yet the bad stuff cannot be whitewashed. He once compared Republicans to Klansmen for wanting to cut taxes.

Given that this was one very bad comment and not a pattern, perhaps he should retract them and the matter can be dropped.

I have been thinking a lot about Rangel the last few days because I find myself feeling pangs of sympathy for him. While I do believe he is corrupt (and will eat my words if he is exonerated, and yes he gets presumption of innocence…I am offering my feelings, not facts.), it is still sad to see a career end this way.

Mr. Rangel has said many times that since he was shot at in Korea, he “has not had a bad day since.” Yet the other day he followed that sentiment with the comment of “I may have to reassess that.”

Charles Rangel is on the verge (if he is not there yet) of being a beaten and broken man.

I never mustered sympathy for Ted Kennedy. Because of him Mary Jo Kopechne died. He also brutalized innocent people such as Robert Bork, beginning the cycle of political violence that may never be broken. I truly believe those two actions, especially the first one, trump any positive deeds he may have done.

I cannot muster sympathy for Maxine Waters. I have always found her contemptible.

(Today is not the day to elaborate.)

Rangel is different. He has a likable side. Being a likable scoundrel is not better than being a mean one, but I look at Rangel and think that he started out wanting to do right by his constituents. He simply hung around too long.

What if Mr. Rangel (again, heaven forbid), were to die, and only after his death, be exonerated? Would we be guilty of sending an innocent man to his death due to sadness?

(Richard Jewell and the Atlanta Olympic bombing come to mind.)

Ted Stevens and Charles Rangel both lived to ripe old ages. Yet they both saw decades of distinguished service clouded by ignominy. Exoneration helps, but it does not take away the pain of being accused.

If Mr. Rangel is guilty, he must suffer the consequences. Yet he did not kill anybody, and there should not be celebration or bloodlust if he falls. It really is a disappointment.

It is too late to treat people with kindness and decency when they are gone. It is too late for those who persecuted Ted Stevens to say to his face that they know he was exonerated. Even if he was guilty, it should not invalidate his lifetime of service. Again, his negative deeds would not come anywhere near close to outweighing his positive deeds.

I do hope that if Mr. Rangel is guilty, that he resigns and spares the country a trial. He has stated he will not go anywhere voluntarily.

I genuinely want Mr. Rangel to preserve his dignity, but at this point it is up to him.

I also hope that the obvious despair he is showing on television does not end his life. Even if he is guilty, it will not erase his entire career. It will certainly not erase his military heroism.

Maybe if enough people on the right are able to show some compassion (this does not mean dismissing charges unless facts warrant that) for Mr. Rangel, the left will stop being so hostile all the time and begin to see conservatives as human beings. I am not counting on this.

Let us see how the left reacts to the tragic death of Ted Stevens. More importantly, let’s see how they react to the next conservative to face public humiliation the way Stevens did and Rangel is now.

Even if these people are guilty, they are still human beings. Human failings brought them down.

Mr. Rangel, whether or not you did wrong, I hope in the end you make this right. I hope when your time does come, you will be at peace.

Farewell Mr. Stevens. May peace be upon you and your loved ones always, now and forever.


Update: Dan Rostenkowski has died. Like Mr. Stevens and Mr. Rangel, we should make an effort to look at the totality of his career, not just the ignominious end.


2 Responses to “Ted Stevens and Charles Rangel”

  1. “For those who believe in God, did God arbitrarily spin a roulette wheel and let fate decide? Did God make intentional decisions?

    For those who are atheist or agnostic, was this just chance?”


    I would imagine something went wrong with the flight. I don’t think it’s a spiritual, existential question, like “Where did it all come from?,” or “What does it all mean?” It was a plane crash, a terrible thing. Something – weather, mechanics, electronics, human error, a heart attack (?) – went wrong. It happens. It’s not some unexplainable event. It may never be known why, but it certainly could be.

    “My Rabbi has often said that “There is no such thing as an atheist on a turbulent plane.””

    Well, your rabbi, I’m sure a learned man, is wrong. I’ve been on very turbulent planes, and remained an atheist all the while. I’ve had guns pulled on me, been in terrible car accidents, had several unfortunately “overdoing-its” (shall we say?) that required serious medical attention, and have always been and still am an atheist. I “died on the table” and had to be revived, and when that happened I do recall what I think was some kind of “spiritual” experience, but I still was, and remain, an atheist. To be honest, even if I was to become one of those “fox-hole” converts, I wouldn’t want to be with the Judeo-Christian God anyway. He’s unpleasant fellow at best.

    Speaking of Rangel, interestingly, Dan Rostenkowski died today. He was a similar figure in the House; a cleverly rambunctious character who fought for the working folks of America – and who took advantage of his popularity and employment security to obtain more perks in life than he was legally allowed.

    To see both Rostenkowski and Stevens – two such different and yet similar characters – pass so closely gets me thinking about how the passing of one generation to the next often means less than we’d like. Right and Left keep on scrapping. Corruption keeps on corrupting. Nothing really changes. There’s an existential though for ya’.


  2. Toma says:

    A war hero who turns bank robber is in fact a war hero and a bank robber. One activity is commendable the other activity is illegal. One activity deserves praise the other activity deserves jail. Rangel is a criminal today. He has been a criminal for a long time and deserves jail.

    There may be some people in our Government deserving of praise. I believe the majority of the people in our Government are criminal and deserve jail.

    Things must change if we are to survive. Greed and power corrupt completely but all of us are not corrupt.


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