Valdosta Daily Times

What We Think

November 13, 2012

Why are we so fascinated?

VALDOSTA — When Gen. David Petraeus, director of the Central Intelligence Agency and highly decorated four star general, resigned his position on Nov.9, citing an extramarital affair, the news created a ripple of fascination across the country.

Why are people so mesmerized by scandalous affairs? How is it that Petraeus’ affair has replaced the investigation over the attack in Benghazi, the presidential election, and the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy on front pages and news sites across the country?

Petraeus did not break any laws, and although the FBI’s involvement, investigation and the timing of the release of its findings is rather suspect, the affair itself mirrors numerous such events since the beginning of time. Older, powerful man and young, attractive female. Countless novels and movie scripts have been written around this theme.

Former Pres. Bill Clinton’s affair with an intern, late Pres. John F. Kennedy’s infamous dalliances with various starlets, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s child out of wedlock, Sen. John Edwards' child out of wedlock, former Gov. Mark Sanford’s affair, and the list could go on for pages.

And yet Kennedy’s affairs were not news until decades after his death, and similar affairs from Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt all the way back to Pres. Thomas Jefferson were fairly well known at the time and scarcely raised an eyebrow. And those were supposed to be the days of stricter morals and behavior. These men were ultimately judged on the merits of their accomplishments, not their character flaws.

And so may it be with Petraeus. One of the most highly respected military leaders of all time, one of the most dedicated public servants, one of the most accomplished members of the intelligence community, Petraeus’ career doesn’t merit being known solely for this misjudgement.

But first, America’s attention needs to get back to issues that affect everyone, such as the looming financial cliff, the billions needed for Sandy recovery, and the fate of our healthcare system.

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