The attention of the nation today is focused not just on the impending fiscal cliff or implications of Obama’s victory, but on a juicy personal and political mess. It is now the military and the CIA’s turn in the scandal mill; the presidency itself, the Catholic Church and Penn State football have all had their turn. When the David Petraeus story goes to Hollywood, the treatment will be tagged: “Housewives meets Homeland.”
The story is irresistible in a guilty sort of way. And one waits with great anticipation for the column chronicling this mess from our Boswell of political scandal, Maureen Dowd.
We don’t know yet the political fallout, if any, of this affair. It could, maybe, be nothing more than another personal tragedy that entertains and distracts us. However, so far, I think we can say that the FBI doesn’t look particularly shiny in all of this, and the Defense Department has to find a new general to run Afghanistan. But they were in the process of doing that anyway, so the timing is pretty good from that standpoint. And so far, and most importantly perhaps, there doesn’t seem to be any suggestion that Mr. Petraeus’s behavior contributed to the confusion in Benghazi or that national security was in any way compromised. However, all of this needs to be, and will be, confirmed through investigation, including the statement by the father of one of the participants that there is a bigger story behind the one we have seen so far.
But what interests me most about this saga is its human element. In Paula Broadwell, you have a hyper-achiever who decided to add a new dimension to the notion that you can have it all (career, mother, husband, 6-minute miler and lover). Some men have had these multiple compartments for years. Less is known about the woman in Tampa; initial descriptions, sexist in nature, suggest that she followed the Junior League pathway to infidelity — volunteering to work with military families at MacDill Air Force Base — and ended up in harm’s way. The female roles in the scandal are quite different and culturally interesting. One shows how much things have changed, and the other, perhaps, how much things have stayed the same.
Now, for Mr. Petraeus and Gen. John Allen. There has been much speculation about why powerful men, from Bill Clinton to John Edwards to Jack Welch, would engage in such obviously risky behavior, with so much to lose. Psychologists have speculated that this has something to do with their sense of entitlement and a belief they can get away with anything. I have always preferred a much simpler answer, offered in the movie Moonstruck many years ago. When asked why men cheat, the Olympia Dukakis character responds, “because they fear death.”