Gary Condit provides a great example of a guy screwed over by circumstance. What Condit did wasn”t extraordinary in any way he was a politician who had an affair with a particularly ugly woman. At this point, that sort of revelation is about as shocking to me as a bad episode of “Big Brother.”

Paul Wong
Manish Raiji

Once again we have a politician embarrassed not only by his transgressions, but also by his overwhelming bad taste. Bill Clinton jokes pop into mind almost immediately: “You would think that the leader of the free world would have his choice of much hotter chicks!”

The parallels to Clinton don”t stop with the superficial. Two powerful politicians letting a young intern play house, two politicians questioned in a legal setting about their behavior, two politicians who lied with a straight face and two politicians forced to hang their heads and admit their dishonesty. It”s the same plotline, just different characters and settings.

But the most profoundly irritating similarity between the two men will doubtlessly be the backlash. It will only be a matter of time before we start getting hit with elderly Republicans on Larry King Live talking about the decline of American morality. How it”s impossible to have any faith in a politician with so few scruples. How the principle of family has become entirely meaningless in today”s society.

These outcries for a return to morality are as ridiculous now as they were when Clinton”s affair(s) became known. We aren”t living in an era of substantially lower morals than previous generations. By cheating on their wives, Clinton and Condit haven”t done anything worse than Kennedy, Eisenhower, Roosevelt, Cleveland, Jefferson or even George Washington. Of course, infidelity is amoral, but let”s not pretend that current instances of sexual liaisons between politicians and their mistresses are indicative of some modern moral decay. Morality has always been a little cheap, especially for men in power.

Condit”s affair was wrong, but it wasn”t unnatural. What tripped him up was simple bad luck the girl he was running around with wound up missing. After that, it was a Pandora”s Box that Condit was no better at closing than Clinton was. What”s lost in all this clamoring for a return to morality is the need for a return to privacy.

In an age where Prozac patients get their names sent out over email, where cameras can watch virtually anything we do in public, where companies can place data on your computer to track what websites you”ve been looking at and where credit card transactions can map your whereabouts, is it really a surprise that our public figures appear to be brimming with sin?

It”s true that things have changed in recent times, but those changes have nothing to do with morality and have everything to do with information. The ability to observe in great detail the lives of others has outpaced the ability of people to evade scrutiny. Public figures used to be able to don a wig and sunglasses and effectively disappear for a while modern day celebrities have to be a lot more cunning.

In hindsight, I”m certain that the similarity between Clinton and Condit that will end up having the most profound impact will be the example that they set. Not the example of bad men who had to face the truth, but of men out of touch with their times. Clinton and Condit will both serve as warnings to an upcoming generation of politicians, who will learn to cover their tracks and be prepared for absolutely anything. Their individual stories, however similar they may be, are not as important as the end result: They both got caught.

I have no doubt that we will one day return to an age of innocence, when those in the spotlight can be looked up to as heroes. But that return won”t be a result of some rebirth of values it will come when celebrities figure out the modern-day equivalent to a wig and sunglasses.

Manish Raiji owns a pair of sunglasses, but he does not own a wig. He can be reached via e-mail at mraiji@umich.edu.

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