Jewish World Review August 2, 2001 /13 Menachem-Av, 5761

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell
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Spin versus sense -- THE latest political spin is that we should shift our focus away from Congressman Gary Condit and concentrate on finding Chandra Levy. But what we really need to do -- and urgently -- is begin to shift our focus away from Chandra Levy and look much more closely and thoughtfully at Congressman Condit.

Realistically, after all this time, there is very little chance of finding Chandra Levy alive. Even finding her body becomes less and less likely, after massive searches have failed to turn up anything.

Whatever Gary Condit's past role in the life of Chandra Levy, he has a far more important -- and more dangerous -- present and future role in the Congress of the United States. As a member of the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Condit has access to secrets that can jeopardize the lives of millions of Americans.

He is precisely the sort of person who is usually kept away from such secrets -- someone with his own guilty secrets, who is therefore susceptible to blackmail by those who want military information. That is why there are thorough background checks into people's personal lives before they are given access to top secret material -- unless they are members of Congress.

Although most Americans had never heard of Congressman Condit before Chandra Levy disappeared, those people who were in a position to know him were aware of his double life years ago. Back when he was a member of the California legislature, he had already acquired the nickname "Condom Condit."

This is not "all about sex." Espionage agents, whose business it is to find out whom they can blackmail, know that a sexual double life, such as Gary Condit has been leading, gives them leverage to pry loose government secrets. In the Congress of the United States, those are life and death secrets.

Another piece of political spin is that the voters in Congressman Condit's district should be the ones to decide whether or not he continues to be in the House of Representatives. But a security risk on the House Intelligence Committee affects far more lives than those in one Congressional district.

Even when there are no dangers of such magnitude, any society requires multiple safeguards against the many ways that human beings can go wrong and do harm. Laws and elections are not enough. There must also be a sense of moral norms and of public condemnation of those who violate them.

The vogue of being "non-judgmental" strips away these safeguards, leaving only formal legal processes to deal with transgressions after they have reached major proportions and can also be proved in a court of law. That is like driving cars with no brakes and leaving the problems to be dealt with only after they reach the point where people are in the hospital or the morgue.

Any society has its social equivalents of traffic lights, brakes and steering wheels, so that problems can be avoided before there is a wreck. Those who thoughtlessly weaken or wave aside informal social safeguards allow dangerous behavior to continue until it wreaks havoc.

Some people in the media and in politics have tried to argue that the early and informal sanction of moral condemnation should not be used because everyone "is innocent until proven guilty." That is the standard for criminal law, not moral condemnation or political judgment.

We make the great majority of our decisions in life without the kind of evidence that would be admissible in a criminal trial. Unfortunately, there are too many people who do not even think in terms of the contexts in which different standards and procedures apply. They simply repeat the slogans of the hour, as put out by the spinmeisters.

Even if we assume, for the sake of argument, that Gary Condit had nothing whatever to do with the disappearance of Chandra Levy, he has still knowingly reduced the chances of finding her alive. In those early days after she was reported missing, when there might have been some chance of finding her before it was too late, Condit withheld information that could have either put the police on the right track or at least kept them from having to spend much precious time sifting through his lies and evasions.

This devious man with his long history of a double life needs to be condemned as a moral leper and removed as a security risk -- long before the point where criminal law would be applied.

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