Eintime Conversion for education and research 05-14-2006 @ 17:21:23
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Wooed by a Washington wolf

By Susan Estrich

Gary Condit may have had absolutely nothing to do with Chandra Levy's now-famous disappearance. But he's a lesson for every woman in what to avoid in men. Flight attendants, interns, women everywhere beware: Watch out for the Gary Condits.

Date a Gary Condit, and this is what you get: You organize your whole life around seeing him and then, mostly, you don't. Levy's aunt suggested cleaning closets and building a terrarium as activities that might occupy Chandra during her long stretches alone in Condit's apartment, waiting for him.

You get to walk by yourself on the wrong floor of his apartment building, which is what you've been told to do if anyone else gets on the elevator and pushes the button for his floor. You get to run out by yourself and hail cabs and hope he'll follow you. You get to eat takeout when you finally do see him, because you can't go out in public together.

You get sworn to secrecy -- and then you get lied to.

These guys never just cheat once. Levy wasn't the other woman; she was the other other woman. Lying to his wife, lying to his girlfriend, and then hiding the intern. What choice does he have? His career comes first. Romance with a married congressman isn't.

Washington police have rightly said they are not the sex police, and they shouldn't be. But should we? Should the media?

Everybody in this story is over 21. Levy, from everything I have read about her, would have said that she was old enough to have sexual autonomy.

So what if he's a lout? We're not married to him. Isn't that what we said about Bill Clinton?

There's an easy answer in this case. In this case, a young woman is missing. She's your secret lover. Now she's gone, disappeared. Assume that you had nothing to do with it. Assume that Condit is telling the truth.

The hero says, the heck with my political future, I'll tell the police everything in the hopes that it may somehow shed light on the case. I'll make sure everybody does.

First and foremost, he wants to find her. He puts her life in front of his House seat.

But a Gary Condit says, I can tough this one out. I don't have to tell the whole truth. I'm certainly not going to be forthcoming. I'll have my lawyer tell my girlfriend to lay low. She knew the score. My political future comes first. I barely knew her. We had a professional relationship.

According to reporters, Condit wouldn't even own up to a romantic relationship with Levy in questioning by Washington police until they brought in the media to shame him. And that was after her aunt had come forward and corroborated the affair. No wonder Levy's parents seem furious at him: It is their daughter, her life, that came second for him, behind protecting himself. Instead of telling everything he knew at the first opportunity, he has tried to hide all that he did until the last moment. That has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with character.

A woman is far more likely to be attacked by the man she was sexually involved with than by anyone else, including random strangers. Police always look there first, as well they should. I can't get over the fact that Levy left with her keys, but not her cellphone or her purse. A woman who has just been dumped takes her cellphone in the shower, particularly if she has called him repeatedly -- unless she's going out with him. And the only two places I'd go without a purse are the gym (which she had just quit) and the back of a motorcycle -- something I don't ride, but Condit does.

There's no known evidence against Condit, and he's not a suspect, but he invites speculation because he has not been forthcoming.

The most likely explanation for why Condit wasn't more forthcoming at the outset is that he thought the public would punish his candor because they would so disapprove of the relationship itself. Just because Bill Clinton was not removed from the presidency for having an affair with an intern does not make it politically acceptable conduct.

My views are no doubt shaped by the fact that I teach at the University of Southern California, where Chandra was a graduate student, and I send students every year on our Washington internship program. I think of them as much too young to be involved with married congressmen. It's not that I want to strip my students of their autonomy; they are adults, and I respect that. But I want the members of Congress to behave better and not abuse the public power that is their aphrodisiac.

Women don't put up with the sort of treatment both flight attendant Anne Marie Smith and Levy got from Condit just because of charm. He was Levy's congressman, after all. That's what makes him attractive, why she sought him out, how he got away with it.

I've heard of members of Congress who had long-term relationships with grown-up people not their spouses. Not my business. Interns are different, or at least they should be.

It may well be that Chandra Levy is long dead by now. It is hard to believe she would intentionally put her parents through this kind of pain. But I must admit, there is a small part of me -- the part that knows what it's like to be told by a man that he wouldn't care if you dropped off the face of the earth -- that can't help but hope that Levy is out there somewhere laughing.

As it turns out, Gary Condit cared quite a bit.

University of Southern California law professor Susan Estrich, the author of Sex and Power, also is a commentator for Fox News.

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