In Modesto, California, the Fourth of July parade is a rite of passage. Floats, bands and street peddlers stir the imagination of those who manage to endure the hot summer sun. And year after year, I, along with thousands of others, relied on free ice cream — given away by the now infamous Gary Condit — to make it through the sweltering heat.
But it was more than just well-timed ice cream gifts and other platitudes that made the region Condit Country. There was a handsome man with a penetrating smile and a wholesome family. There was a voting record that matched the 18th Congressional District’s conservative, but nevertheless Democratic, leanings. And there was a group of political disciples that never forgot to thank the man who had jump-started their careers.
Riding his popularity and the luxuries of incumbency, Gary Condit cast a spell on his constituents. He was the consummate smooth operator, and his suave demeanor could do him no wrong. Admiring Condit seemed like the only reasonable thing to do. I admired him. My friends admired him. Some even interned for him, having no idea that their resumes would soon stand out in a way they had never imagined.
It is impossible to excuse Condit’s behavior in the wake of Chandra Levy’s disappearance. His refusal to acknowledge the nature of his relationship with her was stubborn and insensitive — and in terms of political practicality, a very foolish move. He deserved to be humiliated on Tuesday because he — not the media, not the Levys, not aspiring congressional candidates — dug his own political grave and transformed himself into a paragon of moral ineptitude.
But Tuesday’s election result wasn’t about Condit or sleazy congressmen. It wasn’t about Chandra Levy or justice for those who meet untimely ends. It was about vindication for the residents of California’s 18th District.
Nothing suffered more during the Condit saga than the reputation of California’s San Joaquin Valley. Long known for its agricultural wealth, the area became identified with media images of overzealous anti-Condit protesters in physical altercations with naive Condit diehards.
Feature stories in The New York Times and Washington Post painted a gloomy picture of the region as devoid of culture and pride. One article even concluded that there was an “escape theme” permeating the 18th District because residents were so discontent with life that they wanted to leave the area.
Condit was to thank for these and a myriad of other negative media pieces. Luckily, however, because of his foolhardy decision to seek reelection instead of resigning with some shred of dignity, he unwittingly gave valley voters the chance to redeem the region in the eyes of the rest of the nation.
And on Tuesday, Condit’s constituents did just that. They stood up for common American values like honesty and integrity, and in doing so, regained the respect of others who undoubtedly questioned their ability to make an informed decision in the election booth. Rather than continuing to allow Condit to embarrass them, the residents of the 18th District embarrassed Condit and vindicated themselves.
It may not be the Fourth of July, but Condit’s defeat is reason to celebrate. I hope there is still enough leftover ice cream to go around.
Bret Ladine is a junior in Morse College and managing editor of the Yale Daily News. He is from Modesto, Calif.