Did Petraeus betray us? Say no more!

The Thinker by Rodin

Truly, I have lost all surprise when I hear that another prominent politician has been caught in infidelity’s web. Not that I haven’t found incidents like this latest one involving former general and CIA Director David Petraeus not to be blog worthy. The steady stream of these infidelities gives me plenty to discuss, and they conveniently happen when I am running out of ideas. I have blogged about dalliances by Rep. Anthony Weiner, Rep. Chris Lee, former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford (which was really more about his wife Jenny’s reaction to the affair), New York Governor Elliot Spitzer, John Edwards, Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain, astronaut Lisa Nowak and Bill Clinton. There are likely others I have blogged about that don’t come up with a quick search of my site.

Once I learned the details Petraeus’s affair, shocking to many, it did not surprise me at all. Paula Broadwell had spent years working on his biography, had access to inside information and apparently classified material, met with him frequently including in Afghanistan and they had a lot in common. He is physically fit and has zero body fat. She runs Iron Man marathons and is about twenty years younger than he is. This affair was a matter of spontaneous combustion: all the raw material was there once he bought her sales pitch for the biography. It would have only been a surprise had it not occurred.

Was it poor personal judgment? Certainly. Was it surprising in the least? Not at all. And yet predictably the pundit class was largely deploring the whole thing, acting more than a little like Captain Renault in Casablanca and declared our shock that there was infidelity going on with our CIA Director. For me, Monty Python came to mind instead:

“Eh? Know what I mean? Know what I mean? Nudge, nudge! Know what I mean? Say no more! A nod’s as good as a wink to a blind bat, say no more, say no more!”

Should people be upset? If I were Holly Petraeus or his immediate family I would be quite upset. Promises likely were broken, balloons burst, feelings of betrayal must be rampant and probably divorce proceedings will be forthcoming. As for the rest of us, it’s always a bit disheartening when our heroes prove as human as we are, particularly the ones we put on special pedestals like David Petraeus. He was a superstar, instrumental in turning things around in our disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and apparently a pretty good CIA director as well. He wasn’t quite so good at covering his tracks but goodness he must have had plenty of suppressed feelings to share, since apparently there were the equivalent of tens of thousands of pages of feelings to share in his GMail drafts folder. That’s a lot of feelings in a short period of time. I am impressed because in nearly ten years of blogging, I don’t think I’ve come anywhere near that. It must have made it hard to do any work. Gosh, it would be hard to actually meet and drop your pants for Paula. Who would have the time?

As a country, while we seem to loathe the French, there are times when I think we should admire them instead. At least on the subject of infidelity, the French have evolved. Basically, they just don’t care. They expect their leaders to have affairs. If they don’t appear to be having an affair, they assume they are probably having one anyhow. They are deeply suspicious of any politician who is not actually having one. There is something very peculiar about them, they probably think.

Americans are slowly adjusting. Bill Clinton’s tawdry oral affair with an intern only raised the wood of Republicans, who seem to have a Puritan streak in them while, secretly of course, they are busy engaging in the same philandering. I have observed from the many prominent infidelities that I have chronicled that professed beliefs have nothing to do with whether you will have an affair or not. Sinning is equal opportunity and party affiliation has no affect one way or the other.

Infidelity is all around us, we are just mostly not aware of it. Infidelity is not something that most of us will choose to acknowledge, and will only do so reluctantly when caught, and sometimes not even then. Somewhere between thirty and fifty percent of marriages have at least once incidence of infidelity in them. I was ruminating on this yesterday when I was walking the neighborhood for exercise. There were all the happy kids jumping in piles of leaves, dads doing woodwork in their garages and families coming home from their local house of worship in minivans. All this ordinariness and virtue and likely in at least one out of three of the houses I passed there was one or more cheaters, just like David Petraeus, just not as newsworthy.

And yet I live in a very safe neighborhood. All the infidelity doesn’t seem to be attracting crime or lowering property values. It may lead to an occasional For Sale sign or a neighbor mysteriously moving out of the neighborhood on no notice. Whatever this infidelity thing is, it is not the equivalent of robbery, or murder, or assault with a deadly weapon. (The frying pan thrown by your wife when you disclose your affair might result in a charge of assault with a deadly weapon.) It is likely personally devastating to the innocent spouse (who I suspect is not so innocent) but it is not generally a sign that the unfaithful one is a complete loser, never again to be trusted with anything more important than an expired lottery ticket.

The French figured it out. Affairs do not speak to our better nature, but they happen, so let’s stop pretending that they mean more than they mean. So should we. In this case though there might actually need to be legislation. Let’s call it the “Infidelity Forgiveness Act”. If you are a politician caught being unfaithful, you are allowed to retain your job and your benefits providing of course that no ethical or criminal barriers were transgressed. And any such investigation shall remain confidential, certainly to the potentially aggrieved spouse, unless there are resulting charges.

Given that Broadwell apparently had classified information on her computer’s hard drive, there are legitimate questions about whether Petraeus provided them. Assuming the investigation shows no wrongdoing by him and his job performance is satisfactory, he should be allowed to remain in office and keep competently doing his job until such time as your chain of command decides he should not.

Know what I mean? Say no more!