Jewish World Review July 17, 2001 / 26 Tamuz, 5761

Thomas Sowell

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Consumer Reports

A cynical charade -- WHY would you pay hard cash for something you could easily get free of charge? That is the question which exposes the cynical charade by Congressman Gary Condit when he paid for a private lie-detector test. The police had already asked to give him a lie-detector test. Had he refused, the headlines would have read: CONDIT REFUSES LIE DETECTOR. Instead, the headlines read: CONDIT PASSES LIE DETECTOR, though who knows under what conditions or after how many tries or with how much coaching?

It was a clever ploy by Condit and his lawyer. But what does that say about his purpose? Despite all the talk about "cooperating fully," it means that, more than two months after Chandra Levy disappeared, Condit is still playing games.

One part of these games is the sickly smile the Congressman shows when the media are around.

This is part of an old political spin game. Richard Nixon used it when he left the White House in disgrace in 1974, pausing in front of the helicopter to strike a happy, triumphant pose.

Bad as that was, there was nobody missing -- and no one whose life might be hanging in the balance. But that is the grim reality today, while Congressman Gary Condit wears his media smile. Clearly he is someone with no sense of shame, or even decency.

If he had any real concern for the fate of Chandra Levy, the time to tell all was right after she disappeared, when there might have been some hope of finding her before it was too late. Sometimes one person's clue can be put together with others and lead the police in the right direction.

Everyone hopes that this young woman somehow turns up alive and unharmed. But it is a wish against all the odds. If she were alive, unharmed and free, can anyone imagine that she would let her parents go through these months of anguish?

If she were being held prisoner, would her captors dare to let her live, knowing how everyone is looking for her? Some have said that perhaps Chandra Levy has somehow lost her memory and may be wandering somewhere, not knowing who she is. But everybody else knows who she is. She would be recognized if she wandered down the street in the most isolated town in America.

Others say that perhaps she committed suicide. Then how did she dispose of her body afterwards? Any unidentified body found anywhere in this country would be quickly recognized if it were Chandra Levy's.

Miracles can happen. But it would indeed be a miracle if this is anything other than the murder of a young intern. Nor is it likely to have been a random murder. Why would an ordinary, garden variety street criminal bother to hide the body so well that a police dragnet has failed to find it? A couple of other young women interns in Washington have been murdered, but their bodies were found.

Who would have a motive to go to so much trouble to conceal the body of someone who was wholly unknown before her disappearance -- and who would have remained unknown if it were not for her connection with Congressman Condit? That is what brought in the media.

None of this connects Condit with her disappearance or with whatever may have happened to her afterwards. But neither does his conduct inspire confidence that his concern is with helping to have her found.

His stalling and evasiveness may reflect nothing more than a politicians' top priority in keeping his job. But, even at that, what does it say about some politicians?

If nothing else comes out of this tragic story, it should give pause to those who speak so loftily about "public service" as somehow nobler than business or commerce or other ways of making a living. Politicians are not larger than life. As human beings they are often smaller than life -- and more warped.

Making money is certainly not the be-all and end-all of life. But wanting to provide for your family is nothing to be ashamed of. The people who bear watching are those who are willing to sacrifice their family's material well-being in order to gain power over other people.

They are not all like Congressman Condit. At least we can hope so. But far too many seem to be. Since we cannot have anarchy, we must have government officials. But we have no duty to glamorize them. Or excuse them.

JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of several books, including his latest, Basic Economics: A Citizen's Guide to the Economy.


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© 2001, Creators Syndicate