How we sin today: the mind of a serial adulterer

Maggie Gallagher

8/28/2001 12:00:00 AM - Maggie Gallagher
I haven't been able to bring myself to write about L'Affaire Condit, because everything I wanted to say seemed just too obvious: Powerful men who cheat on their wives and mislead cops about missing girls are scummy. Girls who imagine that sleeping with powerful scummy men proves they are cool, independent, sexy adults are wrong and foolish. Sex with the Gary Condits of the world doesn't make you special. Men like that are easy to attract: Just be alive, available and not visibly deformed.

Years ago, George Gilder wrote the great and simple truth that even smart young women need to be told, because the cost of learning it by trial and error is just too high: "She thinks there is a close correlation between the men she can seduce and the men she might marry. But a young princess can seduce the vast majority of men. Unless very securely married," -- or, I might add, of unusually strong character -- "virtually any man will sleep with any attractive young woman. In Washington the liberated princess can sleep with senators. In Hollywood, with directors and movie stars. Everywhere she can sleep with her boss." Apparently Chandra, like Monica, started out having a wild mutual affair and ended up all alone, waiting by the phone, fantasizing about the wedding.

If Democrats are increasingly upset with the way Condit is monopolizing the airwaves, they have only themselves to blame. Before Clinton, the script for politicians caught cavorting was clear: From Wilbur Mills up through Bob Packwood, public hanky-panky earned you a quick kick in the tushy, as your friends and enemies alike said sayonara, buddy.

Thanks to Clinton, we are now treated to solemn disquisitions about whether adultery, per se, is a good reason to vote a congressman out of office. Adultery plus a probably dead girl? Adultery plus a pol who misled cops about the probably dead girl? Please. The Gephardts of the world gave the disgraced pol a good, fair chance to talk himself out of trouble, feeding the media frenzy that crowds out any serious political discussion for a season or two.

But talking yourself out of trouble, it turns out, is harder than it looked in the halcyon Clinton days. And even Clinton, you will recall, failed miserably the first time out of the box on "60 Minutes," looking at least as self-righteous, unrepentant and self-serving as Condit.

What Condit needed to do was obvious: Acknowledge wrongdoing, sound very sorry, and avoid trashing any Levy. Why was that so hard? The answer, I think, is not bad advice or stupidity. It lies in the nature of the beast.

Condit's disastrous interviews provide us a clear window into the mind of a serial adulterer. To act as Condit did requires certain habits of the mind. This is how sin happens. We don't set out to do something very wrong. We make up stories that sound good to ourselves about how the thing really isn't that wrong, or how it really isn't anybody else's business.

Before we lie to others, we lie to ourselves. Do that, and it can be hard to find the truth again, even when it is obvious nothing but the truth will do.

So there is Abbe Lowell, Condit's lawyer, saying that Condit didn't lie when he told Mrs. Levy and the police he wasn't having an affair with Levy, just as he didn't lie when he claimed he and a stewardess named Anna Marie Smith had no relationship: "What Congressman Condit was trying to say was, whatever their dealings were, whatever they shared, whatever they were to each other, it wasn't a relationship."

I think Lowell is telling the truth about Gary Condit's twisted inner state of mind. He didn't even know he was lying on national television, because he had carefully, systematically swallowed his own lies long ago. This is the way we sin now.