Whatever Became of Public Servants?
The sordid Chandra Levy affair drags on, now in its fifth month, with a young intern still missing, a congressman under a cloud of suspicion, and a mediaâ€”with the notable exception of Dan Ratherâ€”frothing at the mouth over every tidbit of â€œnewsâ€ that emerges each day. Now, we read that the Modesto Bee, the leading newspaper in Representative Gary Conditâ€™s district, a newspaper that has endorsed Condit in each of his runs for Congress, has called upon the Congressman to resign. The Bee, in a (ahem) stinging front-page editorial appearing August 12, accused Condit of â€œbizarre behaviorâ€, opining that his â€œabhorrent conduct in the Chandra Levy investigation has violated the public trust and rendered him no longer fit to remain in office.â€
Condit has fired back, calling such allegations â€œterribly unfair and disappointingâ€, promising to speak to his constituents on the matter soon, ostensibly to set the record straight. Chief of Staff Mike Lynch assures us that, â€œat the close of the day, people are going to recognize that Congressman Condit had no link to the disappearance.â€
We should hope that such is the case. We should also recognize smokescreens and hogwash when we see them, and we should thank Mr. Lynch for his comforting and utterly irrelevant remarks.
Should Gary Condit resign from his elected position? Letâ€™s try to clear our minds and think about this for a moment. A married man in his fifties, in a position of extreme power, carries on an ongoing affair with an office worker young enough to be his daughter. Then, when this young lady turns up missing and the congressman is questioned about his knowledge of the situation, he not once but twice lies to police about the existence of this affair. Time, it is said, is of the essence in solving cases such as this one; leads tend to grow cold quickly. Finally, at a third meeting between Condit and police, he fesses up and admits that he has had this affair. Tallying it up, that would be adultery, abuse of power, and a very critical case of obstruction of justice at the very least. Question: where would a politician such as Condit get the preposterous idea that he could fool around with a young subordinate, lie repeatedly about it and thereby obstruct justice, lash out at those who call his hand on it, and still expect people to believe that he deserved to keep his office? Have we as a society sunk so low as to consider this sort of thing acceptable behavior for our leaders? This is unprecedented, is it not? Oh, wait a minuteâ€¦never mind.
The name we use to describe elected office is â€œpublic serviceâ€. Ostensibly, those we elect serve at our pleasure to do our bidding, not to look out for their own selves at all costs and seek self-aggrandizement. In the infancy of our nation, surely this was the governing principle, that honorable men would serve their country by trying to govern wisely. It is fair enough to say that there have been many exceptions to this ideal, and on both sides of the aisle. But it is also abundantly apparent that one of the sorriest legacies of the Clinton administration is the accelerated lowering of our expectations when it comes to the integrity of our elected officials. Gary Condit has had a fine mentor for his criminal conduct in one William Jefferson Blythe Clinton.
We as Americans must again insist upon integrity from our elected officials; we have to rise up and demand accountability and honor. It will undoubtedly take many years to rebound from the ethical morass of the Clinton era, but rebound we must. We have to demand that men and women who would call themselves â€œpublic servantsâ€ act as such, serving with dignity, honesty, and some semblance of what we used to call â€œmoralityâ€.
Many of us understood the critical nature of integrity and were calling for Bill Clinton to do the honorable thing and resign after he clearly obstructed justice. One local talk radio host mockingly asked why, if integrity and sterling character were what made a great president, did we â€œClinton-hatersâ€ (a silly, smokescreen term in its own right) consider Jimmy Carter to be a poor president? After all, he opined, wasnâ€™t Carter a man of unquestioned personal integrity? But there is a correct answer, of course, to that question, one I never heard given on the show, and it is this: it takes much more to be a great leader than personal integrityâ€”but it never takes less!
Richard Nixon will go down in infamyâ€”and rightly so, at least in large measureâ€”as the first president to resign in disgrace from the office. His crime of obstructing justice was inexcusable, and he deservedâ€”and likely would have gottenâ€”impeachment and conviction for it. That said, even Nixon had the personal integrity to at least resign when he came face to face with his lies and their consequences. Iâ€™m afraid that, in the cases of Clinton and now Condit, even the expectation of that level of integrity is gone. Demanding Conditâ€™s resignation is the least we can do to begin to beat a path back to the high expectations we ought to have of those who would be â€œpublic servantsâ€.