Many readers of this column and “The O’Reilly Factor” book are surprised when they hear that the politician I’ve admired most in my lifetime is Bobby Kennedy. And what’s happening today surrounding Congressman Gary Condit, D-Calif., makes my argument about Kennedy much easier.

Mr. Condit’s conduct has been disgraceful – even the hard-core Democratic spinners admit that. The fact that he misled the family of Chandra Levy and the police in the early weeks of the young woman’s disappearance is indefensible. Millions of Americans, including me, have taken Condit’s behavior very personally because we can put ourselves in the shoes of Chandra’s parents. They are suffering terribly, and Condit would not help them.

But there is little public outrage on Capitol Hill about the situation. Only a very few politicians have called for Condit to resign. The rest have kept the silence of the lambs, not wanting to put themselves in a position to be criticized. After all, it’s Condit’s problem, not theirs. Very few of our leaders seem to be taking the Condit-Levy matter very personally. I believe Bobby Kennedy would have.

The thing that separated Kennedy from his opportunistic peers was that he was at heart a moralist. He got (SET ITAL) angry (END ITAL) at corruption and oppression. He took it as a personal affront that the Mafia had infiltrated the labor unions. As chief counsel for the Senate Rackets Committee and later as attorney general, he went after Chicago crime boss Sam Giancana, even though he knew one of Giancana’s mistresses was also seeing his brother, the president. How did he know? That great American, J. Edgar Hoover, shot him over a “secret” FBI memo on the subject.

Robert Kennedy also went after labor leader Jimmy Hoffa against the wishes of his father. Organized labor had delivered West Virginia and Illinois to John Kennedy in 1960, and it didn’t expect a Justice Department investigation as payback.

But Kennedy seemingly didn’t care. He despised Hoffa and Giancana, and all the wise guys. He also came to loathe the bigots running the state governments in the South. His Justice Department applied massive federal pressure to break down the Jim Crow laws, even though he did not have much personal fondness for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was leading the charge for change in the South.

Bobby Kennedy wanted to right wrongs, and he was willing to alienate those closest to him to accomplish that. He took corruption personally and was determined to destroy it, even though there wasn’t much in it for him. His family didn’t particularly approve of his crusading style, and there was not a public relations upside at the time. Kennedy carried out his duties as attorney general with a vengeance. A personal vengeance. He was obsessed with defeating corruption.

Who is the Bobby Kennedy of today? Where is that man or woman? Who is angry that Gary Condit has disgraced the House of Representatives? Who will stand up and say that certain kinds of behavior from our leaders are not tolerable?

The answer to that question is depressing. There simply are no RFKs around. Is Attorney General John Ashcroft angry about corruption? What’s he doing about the pardon of Marc Rich? Paging Mr. Ashcroft …

How about that “reformer with results,” President Bush? What does he think about the Rich pardon or Condit’s behavior? Silence.

Teddy Kennedy? Come on.

Janet Reno? Geez. The list of politicians missing in action on ethical questions is longer than President Clinton’s late night phone-call log to Monica Lewinsky.

Believe me when I tell you we need some tough-minded angry people in high offices. We desperately need Bobby Kennedy-types to attack corruption and shoddy public behavior. Americans need to wake up and smell the corruption. A person like Gary Condit should be a pariah in Washington. When he walks into the House chamber – everyone else should walk out. How can our leaders tolerate a man who has been so cruel to a family searching for a missing young woman?

Bobby Kennedy was no saint, but he despised cowardice. So what do you think Kennedy would have thought about the lawyered-up Gary Condit who refuses to take a police-administered polygraph?

I think I know. And I think I know how Bobby Kennedy would have reacted to today’s mute politicians who put themselves first – the people and their country a distant second and third. He would have been appalled. And he would have said something about it.

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