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Condit Ka-Chung

by David Vest

Congressman Gary Condit’s woeful interview with Connie Chung reminds us that it is now more than a century since Oscar Wilde detected a “decay in the art of lying.” But Wilde, who might have saved himself with a lie he would not tell, was born in Ireland, where standards are high and a man who cannot tell a decent lie is reckoned of no account.

It took Condit 30 minutes to do the interview. It took ABC 60 minutes to show it. It would not have taken Oscar Wilde ten seconds to dispose of it.

How on earth did this man get elected to Congress, of all places? Who could have thought this poor bumbler worthy of the company of Trent Lott, Tom DeLay, and Dick Armey? Why for Pete’s sake would anyone who had not had an affair with Chandra Levy need to go on national television and refuse to say so?

Probably for the same reason candidate George W. Bush refused to say whether he had ever done cocaine.

Lying may well have decayed by Wildean aesthetic standards, but today’s lies are not the work of dilettantes and minimalists. They are more like Mark McGwire homers.

Anyway, even if it decayed for a while, lying is definitely on the rebound.

When former Gov. Fob James of Alabama declared, in June of 1997, that “No one has a greater appreciation for a classical education as I do,” one might have been tempted to call this lie the good governor’s greatest moment of truth, were it not for the fact that he also said, “I didn’t descend from an ape.”

Georgia’s Lester Maddox once said, “If elected, I will disintegrate the schools.”

That’s almost as good as an overweight chain-smoking man with the most dishonest-looking face in America making a killing writing books about “virtue.”

Or a millionaire athlete telling us, “Personal records mean nothing to me. What matters is the team.”

Remember this one? “I don’t know what happened. I just snapped.” Mike Tyson said that during his “apology” for trying to bite Evander Holyfield’s ear off — twice. It was repeated by countless men in domestic violence court, virtually none of whom “snapped” in the presence of the judge.

In Hattiesburg, Mississippi a couple of years back, a witness testified that to his knowledge the Ku Klux Klan is a charitable organization that delivers fruit baskets to the needy.

Rep. Condit could summon nothing so memorable. He reminded me of the car salesman in Fargo.

No. He reminded me of the late Senator William Scott of Virginia, who once, after standing on the banks of the Suez Canal and vowing never to give it back to Panama, was voted “The Stupidest Member of the Senate” by his colleagues.

Sen. Scott held a press conference to announce that he had won the “recognition.” It was a lot like Rep. Condit’s interview.

As Delbert McClinton says in a pretty good song, “If you can’t lie no better than that, you might as well tell the truth.” CP

DAVID VEST writes the Rebel Angel column for CounterPunch. He and his band, The Willing Victims, have just released a scorching new CD, Serve Me Right to Shuffle. His essay on Tammy Wynette is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on art, music and sex, Serpents in the Garden.

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