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.
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