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Friday, November 16, 2012

Dear Abby: He Cheated, So What?

Stop me if you've heard this one before:

Man marries. Man climbs political ladder. Man enjoys some power. Man cheats on wife. Man holds awkward press conference referencing grave mistakes, genuine regret, forthcoming rehab, and eventual memoir....

Okay, okay, I'm stopping!

General David Petraeus is just the latest in a long line of men to follow this path to perdition. If you don't know who he is or what I'm talking about, congratulations. Now go turn on your television or type "P" in your Google search box and catch up.

I'm separately writing in HelloGiggles about the merry-go-round nature of these cheating scandals and what can be done to stop them. Today, on this glorious little blog, I'm addressing a reader's question about what I think of the scandal, but through this lens: should we even care?

The general consensus on Petraeus is that he was a strong military leader, served as a capable head of the CIA (the Benghazi scandal notwithstanding), and had a promising career ahead of him. That same yellow brick road beckoned men like ex-Governor Spitzer and ex-Congressman Weiner and ex-human Edwards and ex-Speaker Gingrich. (I leave ex-President Clinton off this list because he (a) held onto the presidency; and (b) has managed to reincarnate himself as the President Many Wish We Still Had). All of those men, while perhaps not universally adored, had strong bases of support and a buffet of professional options at their fingertips. But then, in their "private" time, they got too handsy with a paid escort or a smartphone or their non-wife. They were forced off the national stage by a tsunami of media coverage, salacious details, and general hysteria.

Here's the rub: if the only "law" these men broke was the sacrament of marriage (even Spitzer was never charged for his solicitation of prostitutes), what's the big deal? Do we really have to lose a public leader because he's a private loser?

My initial reaction is that it should not matter. If the guy is good (enough) at his job, who cares if he's not good (enough) at his life? He's only human, after all, and if perfection were a job requirement, Washington, DC would be a ghost town and corporate America would be staffed by my mother, Julie Andrews, and Deepak Chopra. A politician's extra-marital diddling should be a concern only to his wife, his family, and his church (if any). The taxpayer money that gets funneled to "investigations" of infidelity and the attention that gets diverted to timelines of affairs could be so much better spent and effectively allocated.

Then I keep thinking about it, though, and I'm not entirely comfortable with where those thoughts lead me. Because I do think the brouhaha is over-played, and I do think the wasted money and time is a shame. That said, I don't think we should just be expected to look the other way or simply pass along the best self-help books when we discover that another leader is banging the nanny.

I've discovered that there's still some pie-in-the-sky left in me. I still believe that when a person is elected or appointed to higher office, he or she becomes the standard-bearer of his or her constituency. We put our faith in them to do right by us, and they take an oath swearing that they will.

The stakes become higher as the office becomes higher. The President is the person we anoint as the physical representation of who we are and where we want to go as a country. The Director of the CIA is the person that's anointed for us as the one who will keep us safe.

Those are important roles with long to-do lists attached. So does it become a big deal when we learn that carve-outs from "manage the country" and "protect the country" are made for "canoodling"? You know what, I kind of think it does. An affair - any secret, really - takes an enormous amount of energy, attention, and time. If we're going to talk about wasted resources, isn't it fair to consider the cheater's wasted efforts? We're paying him to do a job (that he raised his hand for) that is broadly accepted to be 24/7. Why should we accept time off for trysts if the man doesn't even get paid vacation days? I don't know about you, but if I had my hands on General Petraeus' daily planner, I would have made less time time for devising Gmail "tricks" and more time for trying to prevent terrorist attacks.

To believe that a public life can ever be effectively cordoned off from a private life may be as misguided as a Congressional inquiry into how many military boyfriends Jill Kelley manages at once. France is a country that loves to think of itself as progressive on this point. Untidy private lives are very c'est la vie when it comes to France's presidents and their ladies-in-waiting. But even France is consumed with a scandal all its own, as its current President, Francois Hollande, is being accused of ineffectively keeping his former mistress from going all Fatal Attraction on his former wife. Everyone knew about the girlfriend when he was elected, but now the girlfriend is threatening his very presidency.

It seems that no matter how "above the fray" a public can pretend to be, the fray eventually starts making noise - a disruptive, non-symphonic noise.

The question, it seems, could be boiled down to this: do we let go of our perhaps antiquated expectations of our leaders, or do our leaders let go of their perhaps antiquated notions of the trappings of power?

I'm tending to think it's the latter. Our leaders shouldn't be expected to be perfect, but when they're on our clock, I'd like to think they should strive to behave, yes, perfectly. I think it's pretty easy to say what side of the dividing line "conducting an affair" should fall on.

So come on, guys: Keep a zipper on it for the 2 or 4 or 8 years you're in office, then go be the lying sonofagun you were aching to be during your term(s). Okay, you don't think a private affair should prompt a public downfall, but please don't test the electorate's value system by going ahead and having the affair. And if that really feels like too big a limitation, too punishing of a sacrifice, then you have some re-evaluating to do. Professionally and personally.

The Governator. Mark Sanford. Anthony Weiner. Cheaters all.

1 comment:

  1. My secretary is sexy
    My intern is flirty
    My wife is bossy