Jewish World Review July 20, 2001 / 29 Tamuz, 5761

Lenoard Pitts, Jr.

Leonard Pitts, Jr.
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Consumer Reports

Is optimism for fools? -- THE stairs, a tour guide once told me, are designed to make you feel small. They do a good job.

Vast and wide, they ascend forever. And with each step, you indeed feel yourself growing less significant against the majesty of the building. You enter the Rotunda of the United States Capitol in a hush and stand reverent in the presence of marble men, statues that watch with unseeing eyes above inscriptions that recount those great words or that great deed. This building is full of marble men. A visitor is supposed to feel humbled by their nobility of purpose and loftiness of ideal. By the things for which they stood.

The modern day, flesh and blood inheritors of the marble men's legacy sometimes strive for the same effect. Moist of eye and stoic of bearing, they appear on the evening news, the campaign commercial or the convention podium to invoke love of country, integrity of principles, decency, values, honor.

You don't believe, of course. You are way too post-Watergate for that. But you want to. You can't help it. In some unspoiled corner of your heart, you'd like to think they're not all crooks and schnooks, that maybe somebody in that big building at the top of the stairs is there for something beyond his own immediate gratification.

Then you learn that a 53-year-old Democratic congressman, a married man, has been carrying on a sexual relationship with an intern nearly 30 years younger than he.

And you're not even surprised. This man, this representative of the people, this officeholder whose name is routinely preceded by the words, ``The Honorable,'' turns out to be small and rather ordinary, not so different from the assistant manager at the local Dairy Queen or the guy who runs the shoe counter at the bowling alley.

And, no, you're not surprised in the least.

Indeed, isn't there something terribly seen-before, heard-before, about the whole Gary Condit-Chandra Levy affair? Didn't we go through this -- or something like this -- with Bill Clinton, Gary Hart, Newt Gingrich, Jesse Jackson, Dan Burton?

Maybe that's why the talking heads, the magazine covers, even the TV news logos, all feel wilted, recycled, as if this were less a scandal than a summertime re-run. Granted, it differs in the details -- none of the other women turned up missing -- but it's similar in the generalities. A married man in whose integrity you'd like to believe gets caught breaking commandments with some woman not his wife.

It's amazing. Under the best of circumstances, having a secret relationship has to be a tricky proposition. So what combination of foolishness and hubris drives a man routinely trailed by reporters and news cameras to try such a thing?

Whatever the combination, Gary Condit apparently had it to spare. There are allegations that Levy was hardly the first member of his harem. A flight attendant claims she had an affair with Condit. A minister says his daughter had a relationship with the congressman when she was only 18 -- a charge the daughter denies.

You could make a compelling argument that we have no business acting offended by any of this, much less surprised. Adultery has been around almost as long as marriage itself. It's human. And since members of Congress, no less than assistant managers at Dairy Queen and workers at bowling alleys, are recruited from the human race, things like this will sometimes happen.

I can't argue with that.

Yet, it's also human to want to believe in someone. Even though you're way too post-Watergate to actually do it, the wanting remains, like a vestigial tail. But more and more these days, we see evidence that even wanting might be too much, might be destined to end in disappointment and frustration. Meaning an outcome suggesting yet again that there are no honest men in high places -- only proven liars and liars who haven't yet been found out.

Do we really want to be that cynical? Do we even have a choice? I hope so.

Those stairs are daunting. Be nice to think something up there made the climb worthwhile.

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07/17/01: Everybody should have a white man

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