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Shame On Us
July 30, 2001

Mark Twain wrote, "Man is the only animal that blushes - or needs to." If only. When Bill Clinton rode off into a Chappaqua sunset with the White House furniture in tow, he had already managed an even greater heist - our nation's sense of shame.

Like soap opera addicts, we preyed on the details of his dalliance and turned pillow talk into ratings gold. Three months ago, when a sequel surfaced, the characters seemed familiar: Washington power-hitter with a libido to match his ego, loyal staffers running interference, concubine intern dreaming happily ever after. But like any good second season, the storyline had a twist - the mistress had gone missing.

Once again, we became cable junkies. Pundits plied our guilty fascination with tales of massage oil and Ben & Jerry's, other lovers and knotted neckties. Everyone had a theory about the fate of the girl in the glamour shot who spent off evenings color-coding her congressman's shirts. But few were willing to pass judgment.

During impeachment, the prosecution's best allies noted ad nauseum that the charges were not about illicit sex, but about lying about illicit sex. Gary Condit is guilty of both, but most of his colleagues refuse to hold him accountable for either. Such is the real stain of the Clinton years. In the pursuit of perjury, we normalized adultery and in so doing allowed a disgraced president to become high priest of a new morality.

According to the House ethics manual, "A member, officer, or employee of the House of Representatives shall conduct himself at all times in a manner which shall reflect creditably on the House of Representatives." Gary Condit is no credit to his peers or his office. He impeded an investigation in the critical first days after Chandra Levy's disappearance. He attempted to suborn perjury from another paramour. And he dispatched attorneys and spinmeisters rather than face public scrutiny himself. But "The Honorable" Mr. Condit's disgrace runs deeper. When he decided to play house with a subservient young intern, Gary Condit broke the most sacred covenant any man can make - the vow of fidelity he swore to his bride. That alone should disqualify him as a guardian of the public trust.

In a recent editorial, the Wall Street Journal opined, "Defenders of Congressman Condit are correct in noting that if we were to make marital fidelity a requirement for office, Capitol Hill might be empty." Echoed Republican Rep. Christopher Shays, "If infidelity is the test, there would be a number of members of Congress who should resign." Their loss would be our gain, and finally, a few members are ready for a House cleaning.

Rep. Bob Barr was first. "Congressman Condit's conduct violates the general principles of public service and reflects negatively on his office and the United States House of Representatives as a whole," Barr wrote in a letter to the Standards of Official Conduct Committee. He's since been joined by Republicans Dave Weldon, Roscoe Bartlett, Tom Tancredo, Scott McInnis, and Fred Upton. Even Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott agreed, "Infidelity is always unacceptable, but particularly when you have an elected official involved in a position of trust with a young girl, an intern." Last week, a lone Democrat broke ranks. Said Rep. Charles Stenholm, "Congressman Condit has brought controversy and discredit to his family, his district and the Congress."

These few stand alone. Rather than condemning the congressman's behavior, his other colleagues protect him -- if only by their silence. Their own misbehavior constrains some, but the lack of public pressure gives cover to many more. Rather than a rising outcry against elected officials who make their own rules, our national preoccupation with sex, lies, and live feeds has spawned a voyeur's passivity. We watch without outrage, absorbing but not impacting.

Democracy demands more. If we would build a nation both great and good, those who lead must live by the highest standards, and those who line up behind them must do more than flip channels and trade gossip. Just as Gary Condit had a trust to keep, so too do we. And while the disappearance of a young girl is tragic, the end of moral outrage is far more disastrous.

TAC will keep a running tally of congressmen who call for Condit's resignation. Encourage those who have done the right thing, and tell the rest that we still have standards for leadership, and adultery doesn't get a pass. Click here for contact info.

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