Chandra Levy, like Monica Lewinsky and the legions of other young women who preceded and will surely follow her to Washington, appears not to have benefited from any useful adult advice. An aunt reportedly told Chandra to arrange the clothes in Rep. Gary Condit's closet or buy him a terrarium to make him like her more. Instead, she should have told her niece she was a fool and to get out of Condit's apartment and his life.
This will sound ancient, even Victorian to some, but when women were told to save themselves for marriage and a commitment from a man who truly loved them and not just their bodies, they suffered far less than they do today. Fewer were abandoned. Fewer were forced to rear children on their own. Fewer suffered the ravages of poverty. Fewer carried sexually transmitted diseases. Yes, some women suffered physical and emotional abuse in ‘‘loveless'' marriages and there were other inequities, but Chandra Levy would most likely be walking around and enjoying her life in anonymity had she obeyed the ancient rules.
Rule No. 1 in The Ethics Manual of the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct admonishes members to ‘‘conduct themselves at all times in a manner that reflects credibility on the House.'' No matter what one thinks of adultery (which remains a crime in the District of Columbia, although the law is not enforced), does the House wish to say that having sex with an intern reflects credibility on the institution?
The Clinton years dulled our senses when it comes to ‘‘private character'' vs. public virtue. Even if a public figure could be a rogue in private and a prince in public, should he (or she) be rewarded with our highest offices? Do we wish to approve of a leader who keeps his hands out of the public till but won't keep his hands off the private parts of young interns? What kind of lesson does that teach the next generation?
Some will remember when integrity meant more than it does today. It once meant being the same when no one was watching as when everyone is. If that was a standard that served us well, when did it stop serving us, who decided and on what was that decision based?
The House Ethics Committee has declined to investigate Condit's conduct, despite receiving several requests to do so. It wants to give more time for law enforcement to complete its investigation. But surely the panel can broaden the scope of Rule No. 1 with a provision that no member of Congress is to engage in adulterous behavior with a young woman less than half his age.
If members are too squeamish about defining approved sex, how about focusing on the issue of inequality when a powerful man preys on a vulnerable young woman? Surely such a prohibition, with appropriate punishment, would do more to protect young women (and young men) than allowing such conduct the cover of claiming it to be a ‘‘private matter.''