Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Career: Success Through Bipartisanship

BOND: But, still, I’m interested in your style. I saw something you had said about your colleagues in the House — Republicans — and how you didn’t want to necessarily get in a fight with somebody because you might want something from him later. Not that you didn’t want to have disagreements. You always have those but it was as if you’re saying, "This fellow over here, I may want something from him some day and so I need to maintain at least a decent relationship with him."

RANGEL: Nah. That’s a misinterpretation.

BOND: Okay.

RANGEL: I didn’t remember the last time I really truly — look you in the eye and tell you, I don't remember the last time I had a fight with anybody.

BOND: In your life?

RANGEL: No. As a kid —

BOND: As a kid.

RANGEL: Since I got — since I left Korea.

BOND: Okay.

RANGEL: Since I left Korea. As a matter of fact, my book is called And I Haven’t Had a Bad Day Since. And what is it all about? Here I am shot up, in Korea, by Chinese, think my life was over and say what a waste. What am I doing here dying? And we were overrun by Chinese, tens of thousands of them. The worst nightmare that you can imagine. White officers being helicoptered out and we’re being massacred. I could see them being trailed off by these Chinese, which I remind them of now in these international trade agreements. And I took a wild shot and asked Jesus to get me out of that and he’ll have no problem with Charlie Rangel forever. And since that time, I haven’t had a bad day. And so there’s no way for me — it could be misinterpreted that I’m getting along with people.

BOND: No, no, you get along with them.

RANGEL: But I just didn’t fight with people. I don’t — if my life depended on it and you were to say, "Well, since that time, you must’ve had one political enemy." And I would say, "Yeah, there was a guy named George Miller, but most of the time I was teasing him. I didn’t care about George Miller." No. If I had to make up an enemy, then I’d have to find out how much time would I have to spend getting rid of my enemy and so it — to me, life is so short and getting even is so costly if you want to do it the right away, and getting along in a respectful way is just so easy that one of my accomplishments as the Chairman of the Ways & Means Committee was working in a bipartisan way with the Republicans to establish, for the first time in over a decade, an international trade policy. But it wasn’t that we said, "What we can do to establish friendship and love and affection?" I made it clear that we were in the majority, he was in the minority, and I had the votes. We had not been tested as a party and there’s nothing I would’ve liked to accomplish more than to be able to get meaningful legislation out of our committee in a bipartisan way.

On the other hand, we could continue the food fight, the partisanship. He would not win, but they were coming up for election, too, and I didn’t think that President Bush’s coattails would be sufficient for them to not suffer another defeat. So we decided that it was good for us, it was good for the Committee and it was good for the country to work in a bipartisan way. I guess a lot of this had to do with the fact that I had not made enemies on the Committee with Republicans and because I really appreciate the institution in terms of debate and amendments and the Republican former Chairman had excluded that. In order to oppress Democrats, he had to keep the Republicans in check, so I opened to them a whole new opportunity to participate and whenever possible, to have bipartisanship, so a half a dozen bills that came out, to the surprise of even the President, have been bipartisan.

That was another point that I said that having the veto over me doesn’t really make me the most powerful man in the House of Representatives because I’m Chairman but having a bipartisan agreement coming out of the Committee, you don’t have to worry about any president.