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Waiting for the Moral

July 10, 2001

Congressman Gary Condit, the suddenly famous California Democrat, may dispute the Madison Avenue adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. If each of us has a birthright of 15 minutes of fame, this isn’t the kind most of us would choose. By now it must seem to Condit more like a half hour.

For readers who have spent the last few weeks on a life raft, a good-looking young female intern — sound familiar? — who worked for Condit vanished on April 30, just after her job expired. Inevitably, there was murmured speculation that he’d been having an affair with the intern, Chandra Levy, 24. Condit, 53, who is married, denied it. Then another woman, an airline stewardess, said she’d had an affair with him — and that he’d asked her to sign an affidavit denying their liaison to the FBI, which was investigating Chandra’s disappearance.

It also transpired that Condit was a habitual philanderer. Then one of Chandra’s relatives said Chandra herself had confided that she’d been having a secret amour with Condit. Meanwhile, it turned out that Chandra had been making phone calls to Condit’s private number.

By now it was a big tabloid story. Then it spread into the major news media. It got even bigger when Condit finally admitted to the Washington police that his relations with Chandra had been “romantic,” as they say, which by now most people had figured out anyway. Who believes a politician’s denials? He denied having broken off the affair before her disappearance, but he admitted having last spoken to her on April 29, not, as he’d earlier said, April 25 or 26.

[Breaker quote: We want more 
than the facts.]]As the Democrats say, everyone lies about sex. This may not be true, but it at least suggests that illicit sex and associated prevarications are considered normal behavior among Democrats. This is, after all, the party of Bill Clinton, Jesse Jackson, Christopher Dodd, Gary Hart, Barney Frank, Gerry Studds, and too many Kennedys to mention. But they can still get mighty steamed up over the charge that Clarence Thomas talked dirty to Anita Hill.

Guilty people lie, at any rate, and they especially lie about murder. If Chandra is hiding out somewhere, she is putting her parents through a continuing agony. Hardly conceivable. If she killed herself, how did she contrive to make her body disappear? If she happened to die — to posit an unlikely coincidence — at the hands of a random street criminal, why would he, not knowing or caring who she was, bother concealing her remains?

And if Gary Condit had nothing to do with her disappearance, why has he so consistently acted guilty? If his worst sin was adultery, why didn’t he come clean about what was bound to come out anyway? Shades of Clinton: when he persists in evasion even when it hurts him, it’s hard to resist the inference that he can’t afford to tell the full truth.

The Washington police, who have been saying that Condit isn’t a suspect (they still have no positive evidence of a crime), are now saying they plan to search his apartment. So far Condit has been cooperative, though his lawyer expresses indignation at invasions of his private life. But Chandra’s parents, demanding a full investigation, have hired a lawyer and a publicity team to turn up the heat. Publicity has turned out not to be a problem. Camera crews have been staking out Condit’s home.

The major media have been uncertain about how to handle this story. They weren’t sure whether it belonged with “serious” news about spies and earthquakes or with Julia Roberts’s latest breakup. At first they left it to the tabloids; then they picked it up tactfully, giving Condit, so far as was possible, the benefit of every doubt — just as, in other scandals, they had tried to avoid hasty judgments of O.J. Simpson and Bill Clinton. Finally it became an irresistible and portentous mystery. The solution may yield not only facts but a moral to ponder.

Whatever the truth is, Gary Condit knows more about it than he has told so far. Like so many other of our elected representatives, he has proved himself a rat — and maybe the end-product of the political culture of the “New Morality,” in which honor means nothing.

Joseph Sobran

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Copyright © 2001 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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