My Chat with Congressman Rangel

Flying home from Utah last month I passed some of my Jet Blue flight time watching TV. I came across a couple of segments of a John Stossel program called “The State Against Blacks.” Stossel had assembled a considerable amount of evidence (including an interview with the always excellent black economist and author Walter E. Williams) that big government has been a disaster for the black American family. He also interviewed Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), a life long advocate of big government. You can watch the Stossel interview with Rep. Rangel here. See if it aggravates you as much as it aggravated me.

I was particularly irked by Rep. Rangel’s dismissal of the Constitution because, in his words, under the Constitution he “was only three fifths of a guy.” That argument is a clever twist of the truth, and is often used these days by those who would denigrate the Constitution and anyone who is calling for a return to its principles. But it is not an honest characterization of what the Constitution says nor what was intended by the Framers.

So I wrote an article on the subject and submitted it to American Thinker. They published it on Sunday, July 24, 2011. It was titled “The Constitution Condones Slavery?

On Monday afternoon I received an e-mail from Thomas Lifson, publisher of American Thinker. He said Rep. Rangel’s office had called. The Congressman wished to speak with me. With some trepidation I called the Congressman’s office.

I spent about ten minutes on the phone with Congressman Rangel. He started off by saying that we really don’t have any disagreement about the Constitution. I recognized that to be a tactic he often uses for the purpose of disarming a philosophical foe. I had seen him use the same tactic in the interview with Stossel. I call it a tactic because, clearly, we do have a disagreement.

We had a very civil and interesting discussion but he stuck to his “I wasn’t even three fifths of a guy” mantra even though I had demonstrated in my article that his interpretation of Article I Section II was not what the Constitution actually said, nor what the Framers meant. I made the point, in defense of the Founders, that they had a pre-existing situation that they had to resolve. I likened it to being in a hole, or a ditch, and that we had to find a way to get out. He countered with, “Who was in that ditch?” I said “Humanity.” “Oh,” he said, “humanity.” He said, “How did I get into a ditch with you?” It seemed to me that with that question he was trying to personalize the issue, as if I was complicit in some way. I responded “Slavery has plagued mankind throughout history. We didn’t invent it.” I asked him if he would have preferred that all the slaves be counted for purposes of representation in the Constitution. I can’t recall his response, but it was not direct, not to the point.

Rep. Rangel’s thinking starts from the proposition that in a perfect world, Africans should never have been dragged into slavery in the first place. Of course, that’s true in a perfect world. Unfortunately, this is not a perfect world and men have enslaved one another from the beginning of recorded history. The principles of our founding are of divine origin, and are the key to loosing the bonds of slavery from all men everywhere. But the fact that establishing that key took time gives Charlie Rangel a license to trash and dismiss the Founders and their Constitution. I find it odd that a man who is ostensibly offended by slavery could be the implacable adversary of the divinely revealed antidote to slavery.

He made some analogy about how would I like it if Africans had come and gotten me and put me into slavery and then decided to figure out some kind of government and I was only considered to be three fifths of a black guy. Would I thank them? That, to me, is a juvenile argument. Of course I wouldn’t like that. No one would. But we – humanity – had an
entrenched situation that had to be dealt with. And the Founders dealt with it under the direction of Providence.

I said that Stossel was only trying to make the case that we need to limit the government’s size and reach to constitutional bounds, and that doing so would not bring back slavery. I think he said he agreed with that, but that it is the original Constitution he wants no part of. He prefers the version of the Constitution that we have today which allows politicians like Rep. Rangel to grow government to any size and in any direction he chooses.

I told him that I was quite surprised that he had read the piece and asked him how he stumbled across it. He said he didn’t stumble across it (He seemed to take a little umbrage at that. Poor figure of speech?), his staff gave it to him. He said I am well known in his office. I’m not sure what he meant by that. The article must have caused a stir in his office. He was about done with me at this point and told me I should send him more of my writing and wished me well. I thanked him for his time.

My impressions? He is a very affable, jocular, and certainly glib man. He’s not someone you can reason with. He has a very jaundiced view of the Founders and the Constitution. He’s going to stick with his “the Constitution says I am only three fifths of a white man” even though it isn’t true because, for him, it fits the template. I had made the point that the fundamental principles upon which our nation was founded are the most unique in history, and that it is the departure from those principles that has us in the mess we are in today. But I don’t think Congressman Rangel has any of the awe or reverence many of us have for the Declaration, the Constitution, or the founding principles of this nation. In my view, those principles are the future, not only for us, but for all the world. I don’t think Congressman Rangel sees it that way.


About John C. Greene

I am a rapidly aging businessman in Connecticut and author of Walking in Darkness at Noonday; married since 1975 to Kyong Sook; three children, long time empty-nester. I have been a convert member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for over half my life. While a member of a rock band in LA in the mid-1970s I became fascinated with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's story of solitary bravery in the face of political imprisonment, his exile from his homeland, and his book "Gulag Archipelago." The book had a profound impact on me as it made me realize that there is a vast difference between the land Solzhenitsyn was born to and the land where I was so fortunate to have been born. That was the beginning of my interest in liberty, correct principles of government, and the peculiarly LDS doctrine we call the agency of man.
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3 Responses to My Chat with Congressman Rangel

  1. joanne says:

    Good job, John
    Isn’t it amazing how people have set ideas and no amount of truth will change with sense of reality.
    My sister is that way about the Gospel. She knows what she knows and is not even willing to listen or discuss our beliefs. Sad, but the way it is.
    Good to hear your book is reaching people.
    Joanne Malcarne

  2. Oak Norton says:

    “I asked him if he would have preferred that all the slaves be counted for purposes of representation in the Constitution. I can’t recall his response, but it was not direct, not to the point.”

    That’s a great question that I’ve never thought of asking before. “Would you rather have the slave states get additional power in congress?” Great job.

    • Thanks Oak. I guess it isn’t surprising that he was not inclined to answer the question directly. It’s a good question to keep in mind the next time someone trots this invidious argument out.

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