Aug. 27, 2001: I know there is a logical answer and I am sure somebody out there will provide it,

… but I am trying to figure out why everyone is in such a dither about California Congressman Gary Condit, he of the weird hairdo and frozen smile. What has he done that is so different from former president William Jefferson Clinton?

Both men dallied with an intern. Both men lied about it. Both men stonewalled the press and the public. I am sure someone will argue that a big difference is that intern Chandra Levy is missing, while Clinton’s love goddess, Monica Lewinsky, was very much alive and well and living it up in the Oval Office. But law enforcement authorities have said on more than one occasion that Rep. Condit is not a suspect in Levy’s disappearance. They just want to know whether or not there was something going on between Condit and the young intern that caused her to vanish into thin air. Give the congressman credit for one thing: he is working straight from the Clinton playbook: Don’t be forthright and don’t tell the truth if you can help it. But for some reason, the strategy doesn’t seem to be working as well for Condit as it did for Mr. Clinton.

Everybody seems to be after Condit’s well-coifed head, including a lot of people who stood in line to zealously defend Clinton’s back-of-the barn behavior with Lewinsky. Have we suddenly developed an outbreak of morality in the country? Are we going to hold our political leaders – and ourselves – to a higher standard of behavior than we have in the past? Can pigs fly?

Until some politically astute soul corrects me, I must assume that the marked disparity between the reaction to Clinton’s tomfoolery and to Condit’s has something to do with power. Power is the fuel that makes politics run. Presidents have a bunch of it. Congressmen don’t. You dilly-dally in the White House and a lot of people will make apologies for you and create excuses for your behavior, including my personal favorite, “Everybody does it.” We heard Clinton supporters say that one had to look beyond the president’s boorish behavior and focus on all the good he had done. What they were really saying is that his political philosophy agreed with their political philosophy, so while he might have been a scalawag, he was their scalawag. And their scalawag had a lot of power.

On the other hand, Gary Condit is one of 435 men and women who make up the U.S. House of Representatives. Most are nameless and faceless to the general public. Unlike their cohorts in the Senate who only face the voters every six years, members of Congress have to run every two years. It takes them years to build up any kind of national recognition, if they ever do. Occasionally, a few members break through the fog and develop a high profile, like the smarmy minority leader, Dick Gephardt, or Bob Barr, who will attack anything that moves. But they are the exceptions. Most members of Congress labor in relative obscurity.

That is where Gary Condit resided until the Levy affair – in a California district that had returned him to Washington seven times. Here is a man who hasn’t produced any significant legislation in his career and who might have retired in a few years without ever having made a ripple on the national scene. His one claim to fame seems to be that he is a member of the House Intelligence Committee, which is an oxymoron if I ever heard one.

Alas, Mr. Strange Hair now has a higher profile than he ever dreamed of and it isn’t a good one. He is currently America’s favorite villain. The howls for his resignation are growing stronger each day and his options seem limited. He can’t pardon criminals or appoint judges or take some highly publicized trip on his own private plane. And I just don’t see him biting his bottom lip and feeling my pain.

But, who knows? Gary Condit may just decide to hang tough and endure the slings and arrows of righteous indignation. If he can ride out the brouhaha, it could be well worth the trouble. He could collect millions of dollars in speaking fees, a seven-figure book advance and maybe even his own office in Harlem.

It certainly wouldn’t be the first time that bad behavior has been richly rewarded.