Never mind the fast-approaching fiscal cliff. As per usual, a good political sex scandal is enough to take our eyes off the road.
In other countries, France being the most oft-cited example, a politician’s extra-marital affairs barely merit an eyebrow raise from citizens. But we Americans are notoriously prudish – the revelation that a public official is diddling someone other than his spouse is headline news and inevitably involves some sort of public excoriation, resignation, even impeachment.
In Petraeus’ case no laws were broken. Nor is there any evidence that he shared state secrets with his lover, or that such information was otherwise exposed. Yet some say Petraeus was right to step down, claiming his affair with biographer Paula Broadwell made him vulnerable to blackmail, the assumption being that fear of the fallout is so great that even the most honorable public servants might be willing to trade state secrets to keep an affair quiet.
That is quite an assumption.
Has it occurred to anyone that the amount of leverage our enemies have over philanderous public officials depends on how much their philandering matters to the public? Apparently not. Sure, nobody wants the details of their sex life to become the talk of the town. But the length to which one will go to keep that sort of information quiet depends on what a person stands to lose if it gets out.
The average adulterer risks his or her marriage. But because we Americans are prudish hypocrites, politically elite adulterers are putting their jobs, public reputation, and legacy on the line when they cheat, making them far more vulnerable to sexual blackmail, and disrupting the continuity of government every time an otherwise effective leader is forced to step down because he couldn’t keep it in his pants.
If an extra-marital affair is a serious threat to national security, it is a threat of our own making. After all, you can’t blackmail someone with a “secret” nobody cares to know.
Here’s an idea, why don’t we start focusing more on whether our leaders are good at their jobs than on their sex lives.