Should America Take Issue with Rep. Condit's Conduct?

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This partial transcript from The Edge with Paula Zahn, July 17, 2001 was provided by eMediaMillworks.


WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky. I never told anybody to lie, not a single time. Never. These allegations are false. And I need to go back to work for the American people.


ZAHN: And we are back with more on the Chandra Levy case. In his book, The Death of Outrage, Bill Bennett urged Americans to take issue with President Clinton's personal conduct during the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal. So what does the former secretary of education think about Gary Condit's conduct and the tone the congressman's camp is setting by raising questions about Chandra Levy's sex life? Well, the co-chair of Empower America and chairman of the new Internet school,, Bill Bennett, joins me now.

Welcome to THE EDGE. This is your first appearance on this show.

WILLIAM BENNETT, EMPOWER AMERICA: Thank you very much, Paula.

ZAHN: Good to have you with us.

BENNETT: Nice to be here.

ZAHN: First of all, what is your reaction to's piece that Marina Ein, a spokesperson for Gary Condit, has raised some rhetorical questions about Chandra Levy's sex life, saying -- posing the question of whether or not she had had one-night stands in her past?

BENNETT: That's pretty disgusting. It's pretty ugly. I guess that's textbook. That's the way it's played. We saw that go on in the Clinton administration. You remember the business about the stalker, the suggestions that were being made throughout the White House that this woman had stalked the president and had threatened to expose the affair under certain circumstances. So it's a familiar refrain. It's pretty ugly. But the whole thing is pretty ugly, isn't it.

ZAHN: Well, I think -- I think you'd probably get a lot of agreement on that. I guess the question I have to you is no one seems to be taking any sort of accountability for putting any pressure on anybody. You've got a bunch of representatives...

BENNETT: Well...

ZAHN: ... I've interviewed and police who say, "Look, we are not the sex police here." If it's not their problem, whose is it?

BENNETT: You know, it's that -- you know, some of that is getting a little tiresome to me. I mean, the police, indeed, are not sex police. But this notion, "Well, we don't want to pass any judgment about people's private lives," and so on -- well, you know, an idea whose time may have come is to return to the notion of a certain degree of judgment or judgmentalism -- let me say that dirty word on television -- about certain kinds of behavior in life.

You know, there is a reason that parents used to counsel their children, their daughters particularly, about linking up with men like Gary Condit, and it's not just because people are up tight and involved in some, you know, religious -- religious sect which is fanatical. There are prudential reasons for this. These situations are complicated. People get hurt. The power relationship is uneven. And there is a long history, called the history of men and women, which attests to this.

You know, one of the things that's missing here, not from the police but from parents and aunts and uncles, is where were the warnings? You know, I have to tell you, when the aunt hears all this news from Chandra Levy about -- about Gary Condit, what she tells her to do is, according to the accounts, is to buy a terrarium and arrange his shirts by sleeve color. You know, is there an adult in the house? Is there someone who can say to this young woman, "This is a terrible idea. Get yourself out of this"?

Now, apparently the Levys did, at some point. But could we perhaps use this circumstance to resurrect the idea that parents are supposed to be parents, not buddies, not pals, not part of your gossip group, not part of your chat room. They are there, you know, to exercise some judgment and some responsibility. And you know, where -- the adults in Chandra's life seem to me to be -- well, maybe could have done more.

ZAHN: Well, you certainly have company on that front because Linda Chavez had some pretty pointed things to say about the situation, as well. I'd love for you to listen to what she had to say and get your reaction.



LINDA CHAVEZ, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I think there's really something else at play here, and that has to do with Chandra Levy and her relationship with a married man and what role the other adults in her life played in trying to intervene. And apparently, they played no such role. The parents found out about the relationship from an aunt. I think they sort of tentatively questioned her about it. But nobody stepped in and said, "Chandra, this is really a destructive thing you're doing for yourself and for the other person." And I'm very surprised by that.


ZAHN: So, Bill, in trying to keep up with the tangents of all this story -- you got, on one hand, someone trying to slime a missing person, potentially a homicide victim. And then you see the strategy to really question the judgment of her parents and the other adults in her life. Does that shift the focus, then, from where it should be, on Gary Condit...

BENNETT: No, it...

ZAHN: ... or is this all appropriate?

BENNETT: There's plenty of focus on Gary Condit. I mean, you don't need me. I don't think you need anyone else to say that the way Gary Condit behaved was horrible. Everybody should be calling for his resignation. I don't know why the Democrats do not want to do this. This is part of their problem. As the recent meeting, today and yesterday's meeting in Washington of the DLC, the Democratic Leadership Council points out, they have a problem in persuading the American people that they are with them on issues of right and wrong. Well, this is a clear issue of right and wrong.

Everybody is in such a flutter to say, "Well, we don't care about the adultery." Well, you know, is there any point at which we do care about adultery? I mean, the guy's married. He's having affairs. He's having another affair. He's cheating on the people he's cheating with. Should he be removed for that? No, but then we get into the additional situation of the guy stonewalling the police, the question of the fake affidavit.

Are we so worried about being called judgmental that we are afraid to say what is perfectly obvious, what everyone is saying privately, which is that this guy acted abominably, has no position of public trust, this is contributing to cynicism in the American people about politics, and should be removed? To which people say, and you've heard it a hundred times on your show -- I've seen it 100 times on your show, but -- "Let's focus on Chandra Levy."

Well, sure, but how do we -- how do we find Chandra Levy? You find Chandra Levy by looking to what she was about and what she was doing the days before her disappearance. And she wasn't trying out for the crew team and she wasn't at the Library of Congress. She was with Gary Condit, and seemingly obsessed with Gary Condit. That's why, Condit defenders, it makes sense to focus like a laser beam on Gary Condit in order to find Chandra Levy.

ZAHN: But it's interesting where you find Republicans, some of them, at least, on this issue. You had Chris Shays over the weekend saying that Congressman Condit should not resign, that if infidelity was used as the test, there'd be a number of members of Congress that have to resign. Your thoughts on that.

BENNETT: Well, again, I wouldn't say he should resign simply for the infidelity. He's -- we've got enough here. We have the stonewalling of the police, not coming clean for two months, the affidavit. But I must say, I'm a little bothered by this notion of, "Well, after all, the infidelity is nothing." It isn't nothing. You know, lives are destroyed, families are destroyed by infidelity. It isn't nothing. It isn't trivial.

One of the problems with politics in our time is the cynicism of the American people about American politicians. And when they see these guys acting in this way too cavalier fashion about this, this contributes to it. Did you see the poll -- well, I think it's your poll. If people were asked, "Would you like to have your child be an intern in Washington," 11 percent Democrat, 12 percent Republican, 67 percent, no one at all. "I don't want my child to go to Washington."

It's that failure to understand that the common-sense morality of a lot of Americans is just a lot higher than what they hear coming out of a lot of people in Washington.

ZAHN: And I think that's frankly surprised a lot of people that they don't hear more outrage. The Death of Outrage was the name of your last book. Bill Bennett, always good to have you on the air with us.

BENNETT: Thank you very much.

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