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Last week the police were using cadaver-sniffing dogs in their search for Chandra Levy, a missing young woman whose affair with Rep. Gary A. Condit, D-Calif., has filled the nation’s air waves with gossip. For many weeks Condit denied having an affair with Levy, but finally admitted to a “romantic involvement” with the intern, who has not been seen since April 30.

If that were not all, Condit is being investigated for obstruction of justice and witness tampering in connection with the case. This is all very familiar, of course, because on many points the Chandra Levy story resembles the Monica Lewinsky story, which broke in 1998. In both cases we see a young intern involved with a middle-aged politician; we find the politician denying sexual relations; we hear stories of witness tampering and obstruction of justice. The only difference is that Lewinsky didn’t disappear.

Psychologically, Levy and Lewinsky are twins just as Condit and Clinton are twins. The dynamic of the relationships, in both instances, are the same. The women in both cases were young and naive predators. The men were old, powerful and more experienced predators. The men in both cases
were risking their careers. The women, it can be argued, were risking their lives.

If Lt. Columbo were on the case, we’d see the disheveled LAPD detective bugging Rep. Condit to help him tie up the “loose ends” of the case. “Excuse me, sir,” Columbo would say to the annoyance of his suspect, “but there’s something that bothers me.”

The scene is the same in every Columbo episode. The rich and powerful murderer – who is not officially a suspect at all – rolls his eyes at the apparently dimwitted and disorganized detective. “What is it now, lieutenant?”

“It’s just something I can’t figure out,” Columbo would say. “A beautiful woman, with her whole life ahead of her, who just finished a six-month internship with the Bureau of Prisons in Washington, disappears without a trace. How do you explain it?”

The suspect, eager to misdirect the hapless detective, always makes the mistake of offering his own theory. “Washington, D.C., is a violent place, lieutenant. People are murdered here every day of the week.”

“That’s an interesting comment, sir,” the detective would reply. “Do you know what the chances of someone being murdered are in this country?”

“Not off the top of my head, lieutenant.”

“Well, sir, you would be surprised. But your chances of being murdered are less than one in a hundred. Less than one in a thousand,” Columbo would say.

“Are you sure, lieutenant, because I sit on a committee that. …”

“No sir, I’m quite positive,” Columbo would say. “You see, Ms. Levy was white and she was a professional. The murder rate for such people is practically zero.”

“It is?”

“If Ms. Levy were living in South Central Los Angeles, if she were involved in drugs or organized crime, or gangs or prostitution, then her chances of being murdered would be much higher. But Ms. Levy is not living in such a neighborhood, and the only gang she is involved with is here in Washington, made up of people like you,” Columbo would say, apparently in all innocence.

The congressman would not be able to suppress a laugh. “Oh, lieutenant, you are so amusing. You probably don’t follow politics much, but there are people who think Washington, D.C., is the center of the biggest mafia in the country – the government.”

Columbo would then laugh at himself, admitting his own ignorance and lack of knowledge regarding political affairs. “May I, sir?” he would ask before lighting up a cigar, further annoying his rich and powerful antagonist.

“Does the smell remind you of anything, sir?” Columbo would ask.

“No, lieutenant, but I would be happy to get you a box of Cuban cigars,” the congressman would say.

“Smoking a cigar always reminds me” Columbo would continue, “that where there’s smoke there’s fire.”

“That’s profound, lieutenant,” Condit would sarcastically reply.

“Yes it is profound,” Columbo would continue. “A young woman has an affair with a politician who doesn’t want anyone to know. He tells her to lie. When asked about the affair himself, he says that he ‘didn’t have sex with that woman.’ Then he does something worse – and this is quite bad, sir – he pressures witnesses to lie under oath.”

“What’s your point, lieutenant?”

“The point is, sir, that you did away with Chandra Levy,” Columbo would say. “And I’m going to prove it.”

This is television fantasy, of course. If we look at the verdict in the O.J. Simpson murder trial, if we look at the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, we find that powerful celebrities are shielded by a
number of factors related to the country’s overall moral decline. I’m afraid that Lt. Columbo is at a serious disadvantage, and might even lose his job over a case like this. The fact that Mr. Condit’s female colleagues were not among the first to denounce his womanizing is a mere sample of what’s in store. Excuses will be made. Logic and deduction will be ignored. The country’s moral sense will shrivel even more than it already has.

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