Jewish World Review August 24, 2001/ 5 Elul 5761

Wesley Pruden

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You have to be Bubba to make this work -- GARY CONDIT is the most puzzled man in America this morning.

Like Bill Clinton, Gary is a Democrat, a onetime Sunday school boy afflicted with terminal zipper disease, a man eager to give the appearance of sharing the pain of others.

But Bill Clinton got away with robbing banks, molesting beauty queens of barely legal age, sexually harassing his aides and constituents, maybe even rape -- and lying to federal courts and grand juries and everyone else about it. Democratic ladies, perhaps enamored of lurid rape fantasies, loved him. Their men indulged him. He won two terms as president of the United States.

All Gary Condit gets is a hard time, and the intern he admits abusing hasn't even complained about it, probably because she's safely dead. Life just ain't fair. You could ask Gary. Last night someone did.

But even before his lachrymose Entertainment Tonight interview with Connie Chung, Gary busied himself answering questions nobody asked ("Are you perfect? Do you ever make mistakes?") and avoiding questions everybody wanted him to answer ("If you didn't make her disappear, why has everything you've done since she went missing make it look like you did? Why have you been so callous to Chandra Levy's parents?" And this one for Paula Zahn of Fox News: "Who does your hair?")

His letter to 200,000 constituents, which his campaign committee paid for (postage alone ran to $68,000) after his congressional colleagues declined to allow him to claim the letter was official congressional business, portrayed him as the Lonely Selfless Guy, working so hard for his constituents that he hardly had time to take off his pants and step out of his briefs.

"For 30 years," he (or more likely his direct-mail consultant) wrote, "as a local mayor, county supervisor, state assemblyman and congressman, thousands of people have come to me with their personal problems. A son in trouble, a mother in a nursing home, a job that was lost, a farm going broke. A mortgage that couldn't be paid. And each time, people trusted that I would treat their problems with care. I hope our relationship is strong enough to endure all this."

What a guy. But he declined, perhaps because his letter was getting so long he was about to run off the page, to tell Chandra Levy's parents why he waited 67 days to help police find a daughter who was lost. Nor did he even mention the affair he had with the 24-year-old intern, which he steadfastly denied until his third interview with Washington's crack police detectives, who were trying not to make the congressman sweat.

"I hope you also will understand that I am not perfect and I have made my share of mistakes," he wrote.

But, like Bill Clinton's true believers, some Condit constituents could not imagine imperfections in their man. Lucille Mejia, who organized a rally to celebrate Mr. Condit, didn't want to know anything about the bunnies her congressmen kept in his Washington hutch. She would keep the remote-control clicker close at hand and if he started to say anything about sex she intended to hit the mute button. "That's between Carolyn and Gary and his family," she told the Modesto Bee, "and I don't want to know anything."

This is what the congressman is counting on, that enough constituents will reckon that whatever he does outside of office hours is a matter of just doing his own thing. If mistresses disappear after 5 o'clock, whose business is it, anyway? If his explanations are good enough for the cops, they're good enough for everyone else.

Circling the wagons may or may not work for him, but he has one or two things going for him. He has done a fair job already of making his troubles seem the work of the "media," of what used to be called "them lyin' newspapers." And not only that, but the work of the "media" in Washington. Nobody likes a buttinski from far away, even if the buttinski is right. Particularly if the buttinski is right.

The congressman has imported one standard device from the Washington confessional, the use of the wife he dishonored as a hapless prop in his rehabilitation. From the looks of it, Carolyn Condit doesn't like it. She showed up to have her photograph taken with her husband for the cover of People magazine, on newsstands today, but cut out as soon as the photographers finished their work. She had already heard, probably ad nauseam, what he had to say for himself. She didn't show up for Connie Chung's interview last night, either. Enough was enough.

Some people still haven't got enough of Bill Clinton, and that's the difference between the Arkansas stud and the novice from California. Bill Clinton wrote the book on interns. Gary Condit is still learning to read.

JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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