G.O.P.’s Affair With Condit Is Over
          by my good friend Joe Conason

          If the Republicans are the stupid party, as conservative
          commentators often remark, they are also undoubtedly the
          lucky party. Over the past several years, their leaders in
          Congress have tried repeatedly to recruit a certain very
          conservative Democrat from Modesto, Calif., into their ranks.
          As recently as last December, the Bush transition team reportedly
          put Gary Condit on the short list of its prospective nominees for
          Secretary of Agriculture.

          Only good fortune preserved them from those possibilities.

          Instead, it is the unlucky Democrats who continue to bear the
          burden of Mr. Condit’s presence among their ranks, just as
          they have been forced to bear with him ever since he was first
          elected 12 years ago. With few exceptions, they’ve never much
          liked or respected him, but they now feel required to afford
          him the benefit of the doubt in the disappearance of his alleged lover
          Chandra Levy, as if he were a loyal member of their party.

          And the same Republicans who until very recently had befriended Mr.
          Condit—lavishing him with all kinds of perks and praise normally reserved for their
          own—suddenly are pretending that he is just another immoral liberal, a Clinton
          clone, a target of opportunity for rumor, suspicion and invective.

          This may merely be partisanship as usual, but it is almost as hypocritical as the
          journalists who pretend that their drooling obsession with Mr. Condit’s private
          affairs is motivated by concern for the fate of Ms. Levy.

          Notable among the parade of Republican yakkers rushing forward to denounce Mr.
          Condit are Newt Gingrich, the former House Speaker whose own extramarital
          dalliances never excited the media, and Trent Lott, the former Senate Majority
          Leader whose abhorrence of marital infidelity applies only to Democrats. Like all
          the other conservatives eager to demonize Mr. Condit, they can count on the
          ignorance or amnesia of the journalists covering this story, knowing that nobody will
          remind them about their own once-warm relationships with the California Congressman.

          Mr. Gingrich probably remembers Mr. Condit without any prompting as one of the
          few Democrats who supported the Contract with America. A so-called blue-dog
          Democrat with a voting record almost identical to that of the most right-wing
          G.O.P. legislators from his home state, Mr. Condit was rewarded by the House
          leadership with a coveted seat on a budget conference committee and invitations to
          a weekly strategy session with Mr. Gingrich’s whip, Tom DeLay.

          It was only two years ago that Mr. Condit was welcomed as one of two Democrats
          at a press conference called by Mr. Lott to promote a phony bill calling for the
          abolition of the Internal Revenue Service. Around that same time, the rising
          Republican leader John Kasich declared on national television that “Gary Condit’s
          one of my best friends in Congress, and he’s one of the most conservative
          Democrats, and he’s always helping us to cut taxes and to cut spending.”

          As the son of a Baptist minister, Mr. Condit emphasized his evangelical Christian
          piety and faithfully attended a Bible-study group in the Capitol. During the
          impeachment crisis in 1999, he piped up to scourge President Clinton and urge the
          nation to “unite in seeking God” through “days of prayer.” Much to the disgust of
          other Democrats, he habitually lent his name to such meaningless nonsense, signing
          on to no fewer than eight conservative constitutional amendments in a single year.

          Naturally, this kind of demagoguery endeared Mr. Condit to the conservative media
          as well. In the aftermath of the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994, Rush
          Limbaugh happily predicted that he would switch parties the week after the election
          (exactly what the portly talk jock excoriated Jim Jeffords for doing six years later).
          Michael Reagan, the son of the former President and host of a popular ultra-right
          radio show, singled him out as one of the few Democrats who could be counted
          upon to advance Republican ideals.

          Then, they loved him. Today, they feed on him.

          And they may well be right to portray Mr. Condit as a scoundrel or worse,
          particularly if it is true that he initially concealed his relationship with Ms. Levy from
          the police. Until hard evidence emerges that he committed a crime, the demands for
          his resignation are premature. His future status ought to be determined by
          law-enforcement authorities, the people of his district and possibly the House Ethics
          Committee, not the vigilantes of cable television and opinion pages. Tabloid
          journalism shouldn’t be allowed to void the presumption of innocence.

          In the meantime, it must be poignant for Mr. Condit to recall the days when
          conservatives and Republicans treated him like a pal rather than a pariah. It must be
          especially wounding to think about old comrades like Mr. Kasich, who once said,
          “Gary is a good guy, and you know at times friendship ought to transcend party labels.”

          But nothing matters more than a party label once the feeding frenzy begins.

          You may reach Joe Conason via email at: jconason@observer.com

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