Newt Gingrich indicated in an interview with Newsmax that Petraeus’ “mistake” should not end his career, and praised the general on “The Today Show”: “He’s a remarkable human being. This is a tragic end to a great career. … I hope he does have some future in some form of public service.”
Charles Krauthammer has contended that Petraeus’ testimony on Benghazi is “the only thing that makes the sex scandal relevant, otherwise it would be an exercise in sensationalism, and voyeurism, and nothing else.”
Televangelist Pat Robertson offered up a nonchalant justification of the affair, explaining it away as “a good-looking lady throwing herself at him” … and “he’s a man.” Added the mouthpiece for the religious right: “I don’t condone sexual immorality, but at the same time, I don’t think it should be necessarily a disqualification for somebody to head the CIA.”
“Gee,” Peter Mansoor, one of Petraeus’ top aides in Iraq, told CBS, “If we made adultery a disqualification for public office, I think about half of Washington would be out of a job so I think you could very well see David Petraeus back in Washington in a public position at some point.”
This lukewarm, boys-will-be-boys excuse mongering not only condones such behavior, it flies in the face of conservative sensibilities. This is not to suggest that Petraeus should be branded with a figurative scarlet letter or barred from ever holding public office again, or that conservatives should not mourn the loss of such a tremendous leader. Yet Petraeus’ extramarital affair is essentially a betrayal of classic, cherished conservative American values: the institution of the family, and the importance of fidelity and commitment.
As Doyle McManus noted in the Los Angeles Times, “Petraeus appears likely to go down in history as a beneficiary of what you might call the Bill Clinton rule: Adultery is no longer a disqualifier in American politics.” This normalizing of infidelity should be anathema to conservatives. It is corrosive of the family unit and of the institution of marriage — values which, given their decline in recent years, conservatives should be championing, not undermining.
Unless, of course, we are speaking of convenience conservatives, who jettison such values when they become troublesome.
In which case, we may be only a few steps away from the French propensity for winking at public figures’ infidelity. This is perhaps best embodied by Anne Sinclair, wife of the notorious Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who, when asked during an interview with L’Express if she suffered from her husband’s reputation as a seducer, blithely replied, “No, I’m rather proud of it! It’s important for a politician to seduce.”
Or maybe not so much.
Stephanie D. Edelman is a recent graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University and a current intern at a think tank in Washington, D.C.