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What's in a name? Ask Charles Rangel

November 19, 2010 |  9:15 am

Rangel

The House Ethics Committee has recommended that Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) be "censured" for ethical lapses, including failing to declare rental income from a Dominican villa, improper solicitation of donations on congressional letterhead and misuse of a rent-controlled Harlem apartment. Commentators are making much of the C-word, noting that it is more damning than the alternative of a reprimand.

History bears that out, but one wonders whether voters will understand the difference. According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, "censure" means "an official reprimand." The committee probably would have sent the same message to the public with a "chiding" or a "reproof."

The only meaningful distinction for voters is the difference between Rangel losing his seat and staying put, censured though he may be. Maybe the committee should simplify its system of punishment to create two categories: "wrist slap" and "outta here."

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Photo: Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., bows his head as House ethics committee chairman Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif, arrives in the Committee Room on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 18, 2010. Credit: Harry Hamburg/AP

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