I lost a hero the other day.
When I first heard the news about David Petraeus’ resignation as director of the Central Intelligence Agency following the discovery of his extramarital affair, I literally cursed out loud. I had thought he was the consummate scholar-leader-servant, a man to emulate. That naïveté, on my part, made his downfall — just another in an ever-growing and seemingly endless litany of similar failures by American public officials — all the more disappointing.
Edwards, Gingrich, Schwarzenegger, Spitzer, Clinton and now Petraeus. These are only some of the better-known names of men we elevated to positions of leadership who betrayed their significant others and, in doingso, spectacularly let all of us down. Why are there so many of them these days?
[media-credit id=14887 align=”alignleft” width=”256″][/media-credit]The true count of adulterous public officials is necessarily impossible to know. There’s a chance that any perceived uptick in that kind of behavior is just an artifact of contemporary technology. The increased use of email and text messaging — media which lend themselves to easy sharing, hacking and tracing — is doubtless one factor that leads to much higher rates of discovery than in earlier eras. But those halcyon times also had their fair share of men who should have justly been subjected to disgrace. Even former Boy Scout JFK is now known to have committed adultery, though this was not public information during his lifetime.
But aside from technology, another factor is clearly at play here. Our toxic and self-destructive contemporary culture continually diminishes and downplays the severity of infidelity’s harms. Many of my liberal friends have argued that it is unfair that most politicians and public servants are expected to resign after their affairs are revealed. If Petraeus was being a good director of the CIA, they argue, he should stay on. Only his professional performance matters in his professional life. Given this kind of thinking, it’s no surprise this country’s leaders don’t take adultery seriously — their constituents don’t seem to, either.
Of course, the first and most obvious reason for the director of a covert intelligence and spy agency to resign for these kinds of reasons is the staggering opportunity for blackmail. It would be devastating if foreign agents could coerce a man like Petraeus into giving up secrets.
But these pragmatic concerns are hardly where cause for our censure should end. The vows two individuals make when they are lawfully wed, whether in the eyes of God or man alone, constitute the foundation of all society: the family. When couples adhere to matrimonial oaths, they form stable, supportive relationships that are critical to everyone’s happiness and fulfillment. Nothing gets you through the toughest challenges in your life like the ability to count on someone who will be there in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, until death do you part.
Humans are social creatures and find ultimate satisfaction in their counterparts in life. When the going gets tough, the best couples work through problems in a spirit of compromise that our politicians would do well to emulate. When the nights get lonely, they stay true to those oaths for the sake of trust, the lifeblood of love.
Recognition of the importance of marriage spurred liberals to action in this recent election cycle. Gay people now have equal access to that institution in several more states. But Republicans, who crusaded against gay rights because they perceived them as a threat to the institution, are not entirely wrong about the state of marriage today. Gay marriage is not the source of the decline of marriage, but marriage is nonetheless declining, largely thanks to infidelity and the cheapening of oaths. Men like David Petraeus set examples by their leadership or lack thereof. Petraeus’ betrayal of his wife contributed to that phenomenon, and as such, he deserves crucifixion upon Capitol Hill.
I still acknowledge the significance of General Petraeus’ work on counterinsurgency. I still acknowledge his important role in running America’s wars.
But I will never again look to him as an inspiration, role model or hero, and nor should anyone else.
Michael Magdzik is a senior in Berkeley College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .