Note to Readers: Remember to buy coffee filters.
Note to Editor: Try not to recycle the same jokes.
Note Back to Readers: Point taken. Anyway, if you’re already sick of the Chandra Levy story, it’s gonna be a long summer for you. Moreover, you should feel free to skip today’s column. But please do read the announcements at the end.
Let’s just say that Chandra Levy shows up alive and well and with a good excuse about why she hasn’t called and hasn’t written. Maybe as a joke she went into hiding to teach Condit a lesson, but got stuck in a vault. Or maybe as a practical joke she was shipped off to China without her passport, like Drew Carey in that episode where Mimi got the best of him. Or maybe she had amnesia. To be honest, I can’t think of many excuses which would justify the hell her parents are going through. Indeed, all of my glibness notwithstanding, I feel truly terrible for them.
Nonetheless, if Chandra Levy were to resurface alive and well, then people could and should say what should have been said to her months ago: “Shame on you.” Or, if you’re not into that whole Biblical judgmental thing, you might ask: “What the hell were you thinking?” It’s hard to say such things now because the mistake she made is not equal to the consequences many fear she is facing. Sleeping with a married congressman twice your age is a very bad thing to do, but it isn’t a crime punishable by death or any of the possible fates Chandra Levy has met. But, again, if she were to appear unharmed and with a legitimate explanation about where she’s been since April 30, she’d still deserve some serious tsk-tsking.
Indeed, lost amidst all of the sincere and deserved concern for Levy’s well-being is the simple and obvious fact that she behaved poorly. As Rich Lowry (who is not merely a powerful man, but an insightful one) has noted, “romantic” is “perhaps the most misused word in the Condit coverage.” In fact, my quick and dirty search on Nexis revealed that approximately more than 700 news reports in print or on television used the word “romance” or “romantic” to describe their relationship.
Oh sure, there’s little doubt that Ms. Levy believed there was a real romance a-brewing between her and the married father of two she played the LUG for (a college term we used for “Locked Up Girlfriends” or out-of-town girlfriends who never left a guy’s dorm room, even when the guy joined us for basketball, drinks, whatever). Chandra cleaned the congressman’s apartment. She planned on being an imperial — or, more accurately, blue-dog — concubine for about five years, at which time the 60-year-old “family man” from Modesto would trade in his wife for a newer model and have a baby with her. We know that was her plan, and presumably he led her to believe it was his too.
Of course, we don’t know this from him. Mr. Condit has been too much of a cad and a coward to face the trouble he went looking for. Even if he had absolutely nothing to do with her disappearance — an increasingly dubious proposition — Mr. Condit still went looking for trouble. If he’s innocent, he must consider the trouble he’s getting grossly unfair in the same way stunt skydivers feel shortchanged when their parachutes don’t work or when snake handlers get bitten by persnickety snakes. But the fact remains that people don’t plunge to their deaths if they choose to be accountants rather than skydivers, and folks rarely get bitten in the Adam’s apple by a Gabon viper if they decide to spend their lives as accountants. And you don’t become a suspect in a bizarre missing-persons/murder whodunit if you don’t shack up with an intern to exchange hot-oil body massages and Ben and Jerry’s low-fat chocolate-chip-cookie-dough ice cream. Them’s the breaks.
Of course, the only reason we know that Chandra Levy was such a doormat for the congressman is because her aunt has told us so. And, again, if Ms. Levy were to resurface tomorrow unscathed, we would look to her aunt and say “shame on you too.”
Chandra Levy was obviously caught up in the intensity of youth and the manipulations of an older cad. But, rather than shake her niece and say “Are you nuts!?” Ms. Levy’s aunt, Linda Zamsky — by her own account — encouraged her. According to the Washington Post, when Chandra suggested to her aunt that she might move in with Condit so “she could save money on rent, keep up his apartment and be there for him,” her aunt’s response was that it sounded like “wishful thinking.”
When the hours dragged on at Condit’s apartment, Ms. Zamsky offered tips on how to pass the time. Cook him dinner, clean his apartment, she suggested. According to the Post, when Chandra responded that it was already clean, her aunt suggested, “Well, color-coordinate everything, you know, put all the long sleeves by color . . .” When Chandra informed her aunt that she was willing to spend the next five years as a LUG closet coordinator and then marry the older Condit and have his baby, Ms. Zamsky was “taken aback,” according to the Post. The doting aunt didn’t seem particularly vexed by the possibility that Chandra would spend half a decade being a secret concubine to a married man. No, Ms. Zamsky was concerned that Condit would be too old to keep up his end of the bargain. “I said, ‘You’ll be 29, fine. With him, he’s going to be 59 years old, or 58 or 60. . . . That’s not a great age to bring a child into the world,’” she recounted to the Post.
I know that bourgeois morality is supposed to be outmoded these days, but I am still at a loss as to why nobody seems appalled by this sort of advice and encouragement. Lastly, while I don’t think ideology has much of a role here — after all, Condit is a conservative Democrat who tut-tutted about President Clinton’s fishing in the intern pens — I have to ask, Where the hell are the Democrats? When an unmarried Clarence Thomas was accused of asking an unmarried employee out for a date, Democratic congresswomen and their activist sorority stormed the Senate shrieking with sophomoric smugness, “You just don’t get it!” Well, alas, those harridans lost their bite defending President Clinton’s intern-mentoring. So now it falls to the likes of William Bennett to suggest that perhaps it might make sense to settle on a rule of thumb that says elected officials shouldn’t diddle the interns or “mentor” them senseless.
As the familiar faces return to the set of Larry King Live like the swallows to Capistrano, you would be led to believe by the likes of Julian Epstein that so long as Chandra Levy is unharmed the only thing Condit really did wrong was commit the political sin of not admitting his harmless affair sooner. And I’m finding it hard to find anyone willing to say that Chandra did anything wrong at all.
During the Lewinsky scandal, Katie Roiphe and other gender polemicists waxed lyrical about Monica Lewinsky’s wonderful assertiveness when she traded sex for career opportunities. “There is nothing inherently wrong with Ms. Lewinsky’s way of thinking,” Roiphe wrote in the New York Times, “or with her attempt to translate her personal relationship with the President into professional advancement.”
The hope was that such buffoonery was a sign of the gravitational pull of the Clinton black hole. Once he left, we all hoped, the political culture would snap back and once again assume a more rational and moral orbit. Alas, it is not to be. I understand that the Condit affair is too reminiscent of the recent troubles afflicting the Democratic party for them to climb too high in the moral saddle, and I’m certainly not eager to return to the standard of the Clarence Thomas postmodern puritanical harpies, but can’t we find a happy middle ground? Elected officials should leave the interns alone and young ladies don’t volunteer to be comfort women to married men.
1. For those of you “deeply disappointed” by my position — or lack thereof — on stem cells, I don’t know what to say. Sometimes, the right answer to every question isn’t immediately obvious to me. I tried to be respectful to all sides and I was accused of Clintonism and stupidity for my troubles. Oh, well. Regardless, I call your attention to follow-ups which will be more to your liking by Ramesh Ponnuru and Kathryn Lopez. Or if you are on the other side of my muddle you can check out Ronald Bailey’s latest column on the same issue.
2. As some of you may know, I am driving cross-country with a buddy of mine and Cosmo — a.k.a. Notorious D.O.G. — on my way out to my wedding in Washington state at the end of August. We’re planning our trip now and we could use your advice. We will be taking the northern route through Colorado, etc. If you have suggestions for places to get the best jerky, where the gambling is good, or where Cosmo can do his dog thang in big-sky country, please let me know (doggie-friendly bars are a special interest). Also, in mid-September C-Mo and I will be driving back across the country mano-a-perro. I will be destitute from my honeymoon and hence dependent on AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Canines), so any suggestions for things I can write about on the way back — and hence get some schmundo and write off the mileage — would be appreciated too.
3. I’m pleased to announce that the International Platform Association has seen fit to bestow upon yours truly its “LOWELL THOMAS AWARD,” named after the former IPA president and the first winner of the award. Each year it goes to the “Outstanding Electronic Journalist of the Year.” Past winners include Eric Sevareid, Howard K. Smith, Barbara Walters, Harry Reasoner, Jim Lehrer, David Brinkley, Edwin Newman, Sam Donaldson, Tom Brokaw, Ted Turner, Bernard Shaw, Peter Arnett, Catherine Crier, Charles Osgood, Hugh Downs, and Wolf Blitzer. While I am deeply honored, considering the company I am baffled in more ways than one about how they decided upon me. Anyway, I will accept the award next month when I give a big highfalutin speech on a topic to be determined.
4. You might think it’s stupid and, more importantly, you may be right. But I had an idea. As we head into the so-called “summer doldrums” — which always sounded to me like hill country in Bavaria — the amount of interesting stuff to write about is minimal. So I thought that it might be fun to set up a little challenge for myself. On Friday, I will write about whatever the story is on the upper left-hand corner of the New York Times. Cut me slack, I wanna give it a try.
5. Lastly, we are running low on good questions for the Ask the Editors feature. You see, “What is Richard Brookhiser’s shoe size?” is not technically a good question. Neither are “What did Rich Lowry have for lunch?” or “Where did I put my heart pills?” So ask interesting questions until men in white coats come and take you away.