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Hypocrisy, Congress and the Voters
Political Junkie
Send your questions about campaigns and elections.

By Ken Rudin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, July 13, 2001

Question: Explain to me how Rep. Gary Condit (D-Calif.) thinks it's okay to keep his affair with Chandra Levy secret for nine weeks, and yet three years ago he blasted President Clinton about the same subject.
– Joseph Abbate, Jr., Tepic, Nayarit, Mexico

Button
It's the hypocrisy, stupid. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

Answer: Hypocrisy is what many people find to be the most objectionable part of stories about members of Congress who have affairs. I'm reminded of Jim Bunn, the Oregon Republican who ran for Congress in 1994 as a family man, stressing his situation and contrasting it with his Democratic opponent, a divorced woman. Following his victory, Bunn divorced his wife and later married his chief of staff. Voters threw him out of office in 1996.

Enter Gary Condit. In 1998, when the House was beginning to look into Clinton's relationship with Monica Lewinsky, Condit was one of 31 House Democrats who voted to support a Republican-pushed impeachment inquiry. He said he was "troubled" by the allegations of perjury and called on Clinton to be more forthcoming. In light of that, Condit's strategy of refusing to speak in public is not seen as an especially smart strategy.

Question: I noticed that whenever a newspaper refers to a congressman, the paper always adds the party affiliation and the state from where the congressman comes, e.g., "Dick Gephardt (D-Mo)." However, I don't see in The Washington Post or other news outlets Rep. Condit's party affiliation or state. Is he not a Democrat from California? Why do the media try to keep this a secret?
– Robb Woodruff, Springfield, Mo.

Answer: Several readers have brought this to my attention; apparently it came from Rush Limbaugh. According to a study by the conservative Media Research Center, the network news shows aired 179 stories about Condit between May 14 and July 11, only 14 of which noted that Condit is a Democrat. The MRC wonders, "Could this lapse in labeling, which prevents the scandal from tainting the Democratic party overall, be because 89 percent of Washington-based reporters voted Democratic in the '92 presidential election and because the Condit scandal -- if tied to his party -- can only worsen the Democrats' dismal standing on values issues?"

I'm not sure that anything Condit may have done would "taint" the Democratic Party overall. As for The Post, however, it is fair to say that there was not much consistency last week. In Monday's lead story on Condit, the fact that he is a Democrat was mentioned in the fourth paragraph. On Tuesday, there was no mention of his party at all. Wednesday's story had it in the second paragraph. On Thursday it was in the sixth paragraph. And on Friday it didn't appear until the 16th paragraph.

I have no authoritative explanation for any of this, so I can't say that we're facing subtle media bias at work. But how about this possibility -- that Condit has been transformed, thanks to the 24-hour cable television networks' obsession with him, into an O.J.-like figure. This is beyond politics or party label. It's sex and lies and a missing intern, the kind of tawdry stuff that much of the media (and, apparently, the public) thrive on. We can't turn on the TV without seeing him leaving his Washington apartment, or being followed by reporters and cameras, or sneaking out of a congressional side door, all with Chandra Levy's picture superimposed on the screen. Somehow, adding "Democrat-California" to all this seems out of place. Or at least too much of a bother.

Post Script: The June 22 column posed the question about political figures who leave office, only to return in a somewhat lower position; one example cited was the late Claude Pepper (D-Fla.), who 12 years after his defeat in a Senate re-election bid went to the House. Many readers sent in other examples, including:

• from Lionel Artom-Ginzburg of Philadelphia, Pa.:
– President Andrew Johnson, who was elected to the Senate from Tennessee a few years after he left the White House;

• from Jim Vick:
– former California Gov. Jerry Brown (D), who is now the mayor of Oakland;

• from Steve Garrett of Tahlequah, Okla.:
– Ted Risenhoover (D-Okla.), who after losing his bid for renomination to Congress in 1978 was appointed as Cherokee County Clerk in Oklahoma and was then defeated in an election to keep that post;

• from Harvey Hudson of Eden Prairie, Minn., who reminds us of
– former Rep. John Burton (D-Calif.), now a state senator;

• from David Ray of Annandale, Va.:
– Gordon Humphrey (R-N.H.), who after retiring from the U.S. Senate in 1990 was elected to the state Senate;
– Roy Dyson (D-Md.), who lost his congressional seat after ten years and who now serves in the state Senate;
– and Leslie Byrne (D-Va.), who revived her political career after losing her congressional seat by winning a seat in the state Senate; and

• a tremendous list from Robert Evins Pickard of Antioch, Tenn., which includes:

– Henry Clay, who was appointed to the Senate twice before being elected to the House in 1811;
– Rush Holt (D-W.Va.), whose one term in the Senate was followed by eight years in the state's House of Delegates in the 1940s;
– Theodore McKelden (R-Md.), whose service as governor was both preceded and followed by time as mayor of Baltimore;
– Wayne Hays (D-Ohio), whose involvement in a scandal ended his congressional career in 1976 but who then served a term in the state legislature;
– Donald "Buz" Lukens (R-Ohio), who gave up his House seat in 1970 to run for governor and then served in the state Senate before coming back to Congress;
– Joe Brennan (D-Maine), who followed his gubernatorial tenure with two terms in the House;
– Bill Boner (D-Tenn.), who left Congress in 1987 to win election as mayor of Nashville and then served as a state representative;
– and former Gov. William Donald Schaefer (D-Md.), who is now the state comptroller.
– However, Jason Snyder of Louisville, Ky., unfortunately includes the late A.B. "Happy" Chandler (D-Ky.) on this list, who went from governor to senator to commissioner of baseball. Jason, NOTHING is more important than baseball!

And the July 6 column, in noting that Jeb and George W. Bush are only the second set of brothers to serve simultaneously as governors (following Nelson and Winthrop Rockefeller), misstated the dates the Bush boys were in office together. Jeb Bush, of course, was elected in 1998 - not '94, when he lost to Democrat Lawton Chiles - and thus served simultaneously with brother George W. from 1999 through December of 2000.

There was no shortage of readers who caught that error, including David Sakowitz of New York, N.Y.; Benjamin Gibbons of Columbus, Ohio; David Mark of Washington, D.C.; Aaron Kleinman of Washington, D.C.; Warren Miller of Lexington, Va.; Bill Burton; Michael Rebain of Washington, D.C.; Ken Black of Ada, Okla.; Will Cohen of Lakewood, N.J.; and Evan Van Ness of Houston, Texas.

Just what we need, more confusion about Florida.

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: junkie@washingtonpost.com

Ken Rudin, political editor at National Public Radio, is also the creator of washingtonpost.com's ScuttleButton contest.


© Copyright 2001 Ken Rudin


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