Be careful, lest you get sanctimonious about Gary Condit

Posted: Thursday, July 19, 2001

I'm with you. I'm reading every word of it. But I don't think I like it. This Peeping Tom business doesn't bring out the best in people.

As a friend told me yesterday: At least the headlines are driving the Washington, D.C., police to search for the missing woman.

See what I mean? We're looking for reasons to justify our appetites.

Why is Chandra Levy so much more important than the hundreds of other missing people whose faces adorn all those posters and flyers that we block from our minds?

Sex. Sex between an intern and a politician.

Yes, Gary Condit surely warrants being yanked down from his high horse. I can think of few politicians more richly deserving than this pious preacher's son who was so quick to cast stones when the tabloid jackals had Bill Clinton up a tree.

But I think we should be careful about getting too sanctimonious about matters of the heart. Matters of love and passion and the romantic bonds between people. These are ingredients of a broth that doesn't serve well in public.

We watched this X-rated movie just recently in the White House. A president lied to protect his family. Maybe it was that. Or maybe to protect his pride. Or maybe because a lie just came more easily to him. Here, make up your own mind: Read these official U.S. government transcripts, not a detail left out.

Great religions forbid adultery. The Bible calls it a sin for a man to even lust in his heart for a woman, as Jimmy Carter once confessed that he had. Our social mores are not quite so strict, but not very forgiving either. ...

Yet adultery is all around us. Polls, if you can believe them on such tricky matters, judged Clinton less harshly than the press and far less solemnly than Congress. Was this the hidden adultery majority speaking? Or was it a recognition that our hearts and desires sometimes flare up and frighten us?

Clinton's failing, and the ongoing story of Condit, play from the same script: older men in positions of power encountering ambitious young women. We presume to know how it went from there.

Although even a casual reading of the Clinton transcripts shows that in his case, at least, the line was surprisingly blurred between pursuer and pursued. The dark side of the heart is like the dark side of the moon.

Yes, the lie sticks in people's throats. In Condit's case the lie - or what is reported to be a lie, based on the word of a source - may have misdirected the search for Levy, although I suspect the police were no more fooled than we were. ...

In the end, there is a point to both these stories that leaves me unsettled. Whatever their moral failings and however hard it was for them to tell the truth, these men have held their families together when so many of us have not.

If adultery is lurking in all the shadows, divorce engulfs us. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that 43 percent of first marriages end in divorce within 15 years. Almost that many second marriages fail within 10 years.

The way I see it, the core of the marriage vow is "until death do us part." Being "faithful" is just one component of this larger promise. Faithfulness can be betrayed not just by a physical act, but emotionally too, which we call the loss of "love." The broken heart from one is just as broken as from the other. In my own case, I never went chasing interns, but I still ended up divorced. And I'm the lesser man for it.

So you won't see me on my high horse. Yes, I'm human and I'll continue to read the stories and hope for a safe ending. But because I am human, I won't approve of their tone.

Balzar is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. (c) 2001, Los Angeles Times.



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