Commentary: The arrogance of power

The arrogance of power, they call it. Definitions vary, but as good a meaning as any is spelled out in the House Ethics Committee's charges against U.S. Reps. Charles Rangel of New York and Maxine Waters of California.

The specifics differ, but both longtime Democratic House members are accused of improperly using their official positions as senior members of powerful committees to further their personal interests.

In Waters' case it was a bank her husband owned considerable stock in; in 2008 the bank got a $12 million bailout after the congresswoman, who sits on the House Financial Services Committee, set up a meeting for its executives with then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. Rangel, among other things, used House stationery and staff help to ask corporate executives to fund a Rangel Center at a New York college. After a meeting with Rangel in 2007, one oil company made a $1 million contribution, and Rangel, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, helped it secure a $500 million tax break.

Waters and Rangel deny wrongdoing and say representatives and senators of both parties have done similar things with impunity. Having turned down negotiated settlements, the two face what amount to trials before the Ethics Committee, although last-minute deals remain a possibility.

They're entitled to fair hearings, but only in a climate of arrogant power could actions such as those alleged by the committee be viewed as acceptable.

To read the complete editorial, visit www.newsobserver.com.