For weeks, I've avoided the Chandra Levy story, reading almost nothing about the missing intern who disappeared in Washington, D.C., April 30, the day before she was to return home to receive her master's degree from the University of Southern California. I've avoided all the sleazy speculation about whether Congressman Gary Condit D-Calif.) was having an affair with the 25-year-old woman or whether he might be involved in her disappearance, switching channels when news reports came on or simply skipping the newspaper articles.
There are more than 443 active missing persons cases in Washington alone since the beginning of the year, and tens of thousands nationwide. It hasn't made sense to me why this one deserves so much more attention than the others. Chandra Levy's disappearance is an enormous personal tragedy for Miss Levy's family. But the story didn't seem to me to have much more than voyeuristic relevance for the rest of us. I've now changed my mind.
It happened when Miss Levy's aunt decided to go public with accusations that her niece had told her she was having an affair with the 53-year-old, married congressman. Suddenly I was curious -- no, outraged. "You mean this young woman confided in an adult family member that she was having an affair with a man twice her age, who happened not only to be a member of Congress, but married as well, and this aunt did nothing to try to stop it?" I fumed to my friend. It was Monica Lewinsky all over again -- a young, impressionable woman involved with a powerful, married man, confiding in a sympathetic, adult family member (in Monica's case, her mother) who thought it best to remain non-judgmental.
Now, this is a story for our times. One that says something about what kind of society we've become, what our obligations to family members are, and what our values are. Unfortunately, no one seems interested in pursuing this particular storyline -- which is hardly surprising, since doing so might require making some judgments along the way.
We may never know whether Chandra Levy's affair with a married congressman (which he has now admitted to the police) had anything to do with her mysterious disappearance. One thing is clear: This young woman -- described by friends as "a cool cookie, very sophisticated, very directed and strong" -- was involved in an exploitive, destructive relationship that could only hurt her and others as well. Somebody needed to tell her that. It appears no one did.
The relationship between a married politician and a Washington intern is none of our business. We've heard this mantra since the Clinton-Lewinsky affair. And by repeating it often enough, we're led to believe that we must suspend judgment about such relationships as well. The whole thing is downright creepy. We know such behavior is wrong, but we can't say so. That would make us judgmental -- and there's no worse crime in our value-free society.
Worse, we've now extended the ban against stating a moral objection not just to strangers but to family as well. How many parents today are afraid to tell their children that they don't approve of their behavior, especially if the kids happen to be young adults? We might lose our kids' confidence and friendship. Better they talk to us than keep things secret, which they surely would if we were actually to voice our disapproval.
But what is the point? Isn't the whole reason parents want their children's confidence in the first place so that they can provide them with proper guidance?
Maybe nothing could have saved Chandra Levy from disappearing. But her parents certainly had the right to know that their daughter was involved in a risky, damaging relationship with an unscrupulous, powerful, older man. My bet is, they wish now they had been able to intervene. Making judgments is what being a parent is all about, especially when it comes to the welfare of our children.