G.O.P.’s Affair With Condit Is Over

If the Republicans are the stupid party, as conservative

commentators often remark, they are also undoubtedly the lucky party. Over the

past several years, their leaders in Congress have tried repeatedly to recruit

a certain very conservative Democrat from Modesto, Calif., into their ranks. As

recently as last December, the Bush transition team reportedly put Gary Condit

on the short list of its prospective nominees for Secretary of Agriculture.

Only good fortune preserved them from those possibilities.

Instead, it is the unlucky Democrats who continue to bear

the burden of Mr. Condit’s presence among their ranks, just as they have been

forced to bear with him ever since he was first elected 12 years ago. With few

exceptions, they’ve never much liked or respected him, but they now feel

required to afford him the benefit of the doubt in the disappearance of his

alleged lover Chandra Levy, as if he were a loyal member of their party.

And the same Republicans

who until very recently had befriended Mr. Condit-lavishing him with all kinds

of perks and praise normally reserved for their own-suddenly are pretending

that he is just another immoral liberal, a Clinton clone, a target of

opportunity for rumor, suspicion and invective.

This may merely be partisanship as usual, but it is almost

as hypocritical as the journalists who pretend that their drooling obsession

with Mr. Condit’s private affairs is motivated by concern for the fate of Ms.

Levy.

Notable among the parade of Republican yakkers rushing

forward to denounce Mr. Condit are Newt Gingrich, the former House Speaker

whose own extramarital dalliances never excited the media, and Trent Lott, the

former Senate Majority Leader whose abhorrence of marital infidelity applies

only to Democrats. Like all the other conservatives eager to demonize Mr.

Condit, they can count on the ignorance or amnesia of the journalists covering

this story, knowing that nobody will remind them about their own once-warm

relationships with the California Congressman.

Mr. Gingrich probably remembers Mr. Condit without any

prompting as one of the few Democrats who supported the Contract with America.

A so-called blue-dog Democrat with a voting record almost identical to that of

the most right-wing G.O.P. legislators from his home state, Mr. Condit was

rewarded by the House leadership with a coveted seat on a budget conference

committee and invitations to a weekly strategy session with Mr. Gingrich’s

whip, Tom DeLay.

It was only two years ago that Mr. Condit was welcomed as

one of two Democrats at a press conference called by Mr. Lott to promote a

phony bill calling for the abolition of the Internal Revenue Service. Around

that same time, the rising Republican leader John Kasich declared on national

television that “Gary Condit’s one of my best friends in Congress, and he’s one

of the most conservative Democrats, and he’s always helping us to cut taxes and

to cut spending.”

As the son of a Baptist minister, Mr. Condit emphasized his

evangelical Christian piety and faithfully attended a Bible-study group in the

Capitol. During the impeachment crisis in 1999, he piped up to scourge

President Clinton and urge the nation to “unite in seeking God” through “days

of prayer.” Much to the disgust of other Democrats, he habitually lent his name

to such meaningless nonsense, signing on to no fewer than eight conservative

constitutional amendments in a single year.

Naturally, this kind of demagoguery endeared Mr. Condit to

the conservative media as well. In the aftermath of the Republican takeover of

Congress in 1994, Rush Limbaugh happily predicted that he would switch parties

the week after the election (exactly what the portly talk jock excoriated Jim

Jeffords for doing six years later). Michael Reagan, the son of the former

President and host of a popular ultra-right radio show, singled him out as one of

the few Democrats who could be counted upon to advance Republican ideals.

Then, they loved him. Today, they feed on him.

And they may well be right to portray Mr. Condit as a

scoundrel or worse, particularly if it is true that he initially concealed his

relationship with Ms. Levy from the police. Until hard evidence emerges that he

committed a crime, the demands for his resignation are premature. His future

status ought to be determined by law-enforcement

authorities, the people of his district and possibly the House Ethics

Committee, not the vigilantes of cable television and opinion pages. Tabloid

journalism shouldn’t be allowed to void the presumption of innocence.

In the meantime, it must be poignant for Mr. Condit to

recall the days when conservatives and Republicans treated him like a pal

rather than a pariah. It must be especially wounding to think about old

comrades like Mr. Kasich, who once said, “Gary is a good guy, and you know at

times friendship ought to transcend party labels.”

But nothing matters more than a party label once the feeding

frenzy begins.