Ways & Means
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Back then, on the streets of Harlem, he'd take a full swing at his foes. He was a high school dropout, a dead-end kid until he picked himself up and put on that military uniform. In the Korean War he fought like hell, brought back a couple of medals, too.
After he came home, he set himself on a course straight as a ruler: college, law school, assistant U.S. attorney, politics.
Charlie Rangel is 76 now and the dean of New York's congressional delegation. It's been more than 50 years since those days as a street fighter, but this fall's campaigns brought them back in a hurry.
"The American people don't trust Charlie Rangel and his tax-happy Democrat friends because they know Democrats will work overtime to raise their taxes," is how Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) put it.
President Bush told a Florida crowd that Rangel had said "he couldn't think of one of our tax cuts he would extend."
While the leaves were falling, and the air growing crisp, Nancy Pelosi and Charlie Rangel were being portrayed as a kind of boogeyman and boogeywoman tag team.
Then Vice President Cheney chimed in.
"Charlie doesn't understand how the economy works," Cheney told Fox News Channel a week before the election.
That sent the Harlem in Charlie Rangel into the stratosphere. He wanted to punch someone. He told a reporter for the New York Post that Cheney was "a real son of a bitch."
"I actually worried about him," says Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), referring to Rangel being under siege and his exhaustive campaigning.
Rangel would go home to his wife, Alma, and sigh: Lord have mercy.
"I just didn't know which direction the country was going," Rangel says of his feelings.