House ethics trials for Reps. Charlie Rangel, D.-N.Y., and Maxine Waters, D.-Calif., threaten to darken an already-gloomy year for Democrats. Both of the accused have shaken off formal reprimands in favor of a public proceeding before a House subcommittee that can issue punishments as severe as expulsion. While it’s unlikely that either lawmaker will receive the ultimate punishment, there are plenty of Democrats who wish Rangel and Waters would do the party a favor and expel themselves.
The question of what will persuade a given politician to resign when he or she is embroiled in a scandal hinges on complex political arithmetic. How vulnerable is the party in the next election? How vulnerable is the politician? Are there compromising photos? Is the politician in question given to moralizing about the very sin of which he or she stands accused? The path of political scandal being well-trodden, the patterns of human behavior in this realm are more predictable than you might suppose. What follows is a flow chart illustrating the various decision points that lead a scandal-ridden politician to stay or go. Slate breathlessly awaits the outcome of the Rangel and Waters affairs to complete the chart.