Public Figures Behaving Badly: Charlie Rangel, George Pataki, Sarah Palin

'Tis the holiday season. So I thought I'd commemorate some of the worst behavior by public figures.

Charlie Rangel, a man who can't be defeated in an election in his Harlem Congressional district, is also a man who can't be shamed. For two years, as the House ethics panel investigated 12 charges against him -- 11 of which he was found guilty of -- Rangel refused all efforts at settlement, while disputing every charge (all of which were decided against him with no serious factual challenges, as a result of which he will be censured on the floor of the House). Whenever he was interviewed, Rangel refused to confront any of the specific charges. How could he? Would he say he paid taxes on income for a Caribbean rental property when he never reported any such income, or that he didn't have possession of four rent-controlled apartments?

Instead, time after time, Rangel intoned his fifty years of public service, his military valor during the Korean War, his commitment to his constituents -- all of which were irrelevant to the charges against him. He blamed his assistants and tax preparers and attorneys, the press, his zealousness in serving his constituents: "Even though they are serious charges, I'm prepared to prove that the only thing I've ever had in my 50 years of public service is service. That's what I've done and if I've been overzealous providing that service, I can't make an excuse for the serious violations."

In short, either he didn't understand that he had done anything wrong or he refused to acknowledge what he knew to be wrong. Either way, he simply couldn't be shamed.

As his last gasp, Rangel dismissed his lawyers, and when the panel refused to grant him an extension since he was now lawyer-less, he huffed his way out of the hearing. And then, after all the bullshit, when he could prevaricate, elocute, circumlocute, and evade no more, he collapsed like a paper bag emptied of air. Looking visibly deflated, near tears, he talked about his impending death, how he wasn't actually corrupt, and, oh, about his fifty years of service, his heroism in Korea, his civil rights efforts and how he was a victim of hounding by the press. Whatever good he may actually have accomplished, Rangel's behavior though the entire proceedings ushered his career accomplishments out the window -- along with his dignity.

Former New York Governor George E. Pataki took up the cudgels in the aftermath of the conviction of Ahmed Ghailani for conspiracy in the 1998 Kenya American embassy bombing. While he was acquitted of a host of other charges connected with the bombing, including the murder deaths of the victims, Ghailani is unlikely ever to see the light of day for the one charge for which he was convicted, which carries a sentence of from 20 years to life. The failure to secure further convictions was due to the Judge's refusal to admit evidence secured by torturing Ghailani.

Opponents of the idea that terrorists like Ghailani should be tried in civilian criminal courts, as represented by former New York Governor George Pataki, railed against the decision. Pataki debated Jonathan Turley, a leading Constitutional scholar (who has actually participated in terrorism trials), on the MSNBC show Hardball. Throughout the discussion, Pataki returned to the horror of the crime, while accusing liberals who insisted on observing legal procedures with accused bombers like Ghailani of coddling terrorists and condoning the murder of Americans. No sorts of legal niceties seemed appropriate to Pataki, as he read descriptions of the bombing scene to justify his bloodlust. Of course, before we had a Constitution, courts and police officials -- or offended individuals -- regularly tortured people suspected of crimes (or simply killed them in the service of vengeance).

Pataki gave the impression that nothing would please him more than to personally dispatch Ghailani: you know someone believes we should torture enemies when they make waterboarding sound like being caught in a lawn sprinkler, and when one of their favorite phrases is "enhanced interrogation techniques." Throughout the debate, Pataki interrupted Turley and refused to relinquish the microphone, wrinkled his nose, shook his head "no," and otherwise behaved like the losing party on Judge Judy. Why would a man who condones, who supports, who encourages torture think he should observe any debating rules -- like letting the other party speak -- or feel he needs to display good manners? Obviously, liberal legal scholars like Turley shouldn't be respected (perhaps, Governor, he should be tortured).

As a society, we decided to take a different route from torture and individual and mob retaliation and violence. But, it turns out, civilization is a thin, easily stripped-away veneer - although thinner for some than others.

Columbia should be ashamed to have granted Pataki a law degree.

And, finally, there's Sarah Palin. Now I realize all of us liberal writers have been ganging up on Palin since John McCain unexpectedly plucked her from the Alaskan governorship to run for VP, and then she turned out to be more popular than he ever was among Republicans. But she has had a resurgence behind enemy lines lately -- leaving a good impression in an interview with Barbara Walters and appearing on the cover of a positive cover story in Sunday's New York Times Magazine. She is doing the media rounds around the appearance of her second book: America By Heart: Reflections on Family, Faith and Flag.

But the part of her book which has received the most attention thus far is her continued attacks on President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. Not for Obama's actions as President since he defeated McCain and Palin. No, she returns to the main Fox News campaign attack lines of the likes of Sean Hannity - the Obamas don't love America sufficiently. In doing so, she references for the millionth time a careless comment Michelle Obama made during the campaign: "For the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country." Palin reckons their lack of allegiance to America was unsurprising since "both of them spent almost two decades in the pews of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright's church listening to his rants against America and white people." White people.

Although Palin speaks throughout her book about the saving graces of Christianity, she is certainly not one to forgive and forget. Nor has the passage of time, or the apparent willingness of a majority of Americans to overlook -- or forgive -- these accusations, as demonstrated by their electing Mr. Obama president, cooled her ardor in attacking the Obamas. And she is certainly not going to be held back by respect for the President and First Lady of our country, even if it's the holiday season, when we all look to see the positives in other people, to minimize differences between us and our opponents, and to respect those elected to lead us.

Yessiree, we're all sure to be on our best behavior during this festive season!