Why Gary Doesn't Get It

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If Gary Condit had nothing to do with Chandra Levy's disappearance, then he's an even smaller and stupider man than anyone could have imagined. If he did have something to do with her disappearance, then he's a lot more sinister than anyone suspected.

Here is what Gary Condit should have said — not last night to Connie Chung, but three long months ago. "Yes, I had an affair with Ms. Levy. And, yes, I'm a married man and I am deeply sorry for what I've done to my family. But I have no idea what has happened to her, and I am greatly concerned for her welfare and that of her family. She's a bright and talented woman and I will do everything in my power to help find her, while at the same time working with my family to make amends. This is not the proudest moment of my political career or personal life, but the important thing here is finding Chandra Levy." End of story.

I suppose if there's one bit of good to come out of this tawdry mess is that it allows Americans to get a glimpse of their representatives. In Washington, Gary Condit is a dime-a-dozen, the blow-dried but not particularly bright Congressman who tends his own constituent garden and doesn't have any real involvement in issues of national importance. Their careers are not about service or ideology but about re-election — that is the star they steer by.

And that is how Congressman Condit has behaved since the beginning of this whole ugly business. From the moment Chandra Levy was lost, he has acted as though her disappearance was a particularly nasty political trick designed to hurt his career. Mr. Condit, let me tell you something: it has been your reflexive and small-minded attention to saving your political career that will most surely end it.

The opening clause in the New York Times story about the ABC interview last night is, "Battling to save his political life." But, really, who cares about his political life — save Mr. Condit himself? And he cares for it far too much. The irony is that none of us would have ever heard of much less cared about Gary Condit's political career if Chandra Levy had not disappeared.

Most of the interview last night between Congressman Condit and Connie Chung seemed like a conversation between two people speaking English as a second language. She, of course, loaded every question in pursuit of that impossible Perry Mason moment where the prosecutor breaks down the witness. Connie, it never happens.

He, by turn, stuck to his bland and uninspired script. "Married for 34 years….I'm not a perfect man…I never asked anyone to lie…." He followed the Lenny Bruce dictum so often embraced by politicians and raised to an art form by Bill Clinton: deny, deny, deny.

ABC billed the interview as "Condit Breaks His Silence." I'm afraid that's not truth in advertising. He didn't break his silence, he answered questions, he spoke, but he revealed nothing. He was effectively silent. He kept repeating that he had "answered every question asked by the authorities." Well, so did O.J. The important thing is whether you answered them truthfully.

In the People Magazine interview, which is a lot more revealing than Ms. Chung's frustrating converstion, Condit says that he hopes his constituents perceive him as a "stand-up guy." He is anything but.