The Right Opinion

Sex and the City (of Washington)

By Cal Thomas · Nov. 15, 2012

The resignation of CIA Director David Petraeus over an extramarital affair has raised and will continue to raise a number of questions.

First among them (OK, maybe not first, national security being more important, but stay with me) is why should he have resigned? I am always amused when journalists use the words “sex scandal” when writing about such things. Having abandoned most standards for what used to be called “upright behavior,” culture now “tsk-tsks” when someone is caught in a compromising position.

Bill Clinton didn’t have to resign after the Monica Lewinsky scandal. He lied about their assignations under oath, for which he was later impeached by the House, but not convicted by the Senate. His liaisons in public office were legion, stretching back at least to his time as governor of Arkansas. Petraeus' dalliance appears to have been a one-off. Is there a different standard, and if so, based on what?

The late Senator Edward Kennedy’s sexual liberalism was well known and he wasn’t forced to resign. In fact, he repeatedly won re-election, despite his predilections. The sexual practices of numerous Republican and Democratic members of Congress over many years have forced some to quit. Others lost elections, but some are still in Congress and have survived whatever wrath remains for such things.

In our anything goes culture, what are the rules for public officials? Avoiding the potential for blackmail is certainly one, which is a crucial issue in the Petraeus matter, as well as whether Paula Broadwell, his biographer and mistress, had access to classified CIA information. In his resignation letter Petraeus cited “poor judgment” as a major reason for quitting. If poor judgment is the standard, rush-hour traffic in Washington would be a lot easier because there would be fewer government officials around clogging up the roads.

Then there is the potential political fallout. Petraeus backed the Obama administration’s timeline for the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, which killed four Americans, and he had been summoned to testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee about the details, a summons he declined following his resignation. He has since reversed his decision and will now testify. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won’t be there, though. She has a “scheduling conflict.” Coincidental? Both Clinton and Petraeus should be compelled to tell what they know and when they knew it, or embarrassed by being forced to plead the fifth.

Now, back to sex. Culture promotes all sorts of pre- and extramarital activity as exciting, even commonplace. So how is a high-profile public official to know what is tolerable and what is an offense that can lead to resignation, firing, or impeachment? Divorce is another matter, as most spouses don’t tolerate adultery well.

Wouldn’t it be helpful to have a guidebook? Are there separate guidelines for military and civilian personnel? Should it be tied to one’s security clearance? If the secretary of agriculture, say, is engaged in an adulterous relationship, would that be a lesser offense than adultery by the CIA director, or the secretary of defense? Should one stay in office and the others resign?

What would Carrie Bradshaw advise?

WTOP radio in Washington has compiled a partial list of notorious Washington sex scandals for those interested (and you know you are).

My favorite is the story of Major General Daniel Sickles, a colorful antebellum politician and later Union general during the Civil War. In 1859, when he became aware of his wife’s affair with Philip Barton Key, U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, Sickles ambushed Key in Lafayette Square, across from the White House, shooting and killing him in broad daylight in front of a dozen witnesses.

Sickles' attorney argued for acquittal based on “temporary aberration of mind.” The jury agreed, Sickles was acquitted and went on to serve the Union bravely, winning a Medal of Honor.

Apparently, standards were a lot different then.

© 2012 TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

6 Comments

Howard Last in Wyoming said:

If I did any of the things attributed to Kommandant Klinton, the hero of Chappaquiddick, FDR, LBJ, Elliot Spitzer, etc. I would be lying in a pool of my own blood with my wife standing over me looking for more ammunition. For these wives to stick with these adulterers (see the Scarlet Letter) gives me no admiration for them and doesn't the word fool fit them?

Thursday, November 15, 2012 at 1:10 AM

Cal in So Cal said:

Excellent observation, Howard in Wyoming, excellent. As we all know, sex sells! In my humble opinion, it mostly depends on who the sexor and the sexee is/are - meaning party affiliation. The lamestream media deems that: Sex is diversion for Libs, an affront for others. Emperor Klinton was just a playful guy with a young intern Sex for conservatives is vile and contemptable. Not acceptable. Look to TV and Hollywood movies as a
standard. And never forget that sex is the best scandal of all. Lying, cheating, stealing - forget about it!

Thursday, November 15, 2012 at 9:32 AM

matt in orange,ca said:

Thanks Cal, and Cal in Cal may be right.. we all fail at times, and can potentially fail in this way if not careful. But some of us have a conscience about it and mete out our own justice, like petraeus, who for, hopefully, this is not a lifestyle, but an abberation, from which he will repent, recover from, and not repeat. -Which is by far the most important thing in this life.

Thursday, November 15, 2012 at 11:08 AM

Bruce R Pierce in Owensboro, KY said:

To answer your question, yes there are different guidelines for Civilians and Military members. It's called the Uniform Code of Military Justice, BTW under the UCMJ adultery consensual or not is punishable by a Courts Martial. No, the UCMJ does not apply to the Civilian leadership of the Military, if it did the current President would not qualify to receive a security clearance. Yes, I see something wrong with this as most “thinking” people would.

Thursday, November 15, 2012 at 1:18 PM

MindPicker in Philippines said:

Well, first Sickle's isn't the one having an affair.

You must understand, We have rules and laws. We have duties and responsibilities but they are often not followed or practised or even understood. Such slips often escalate as things become more and more lax until tragedy happens.

These are often the case in many disasters. The September 11, terrorist attract for example happens because the people who are meant to protect become lax. The Johnstown cult suicide happens because various law enforcers pretend that nothing is happening. Many plane crashes happen because rules that are there to prevent them are ignored.

Rules are there to avoid such things from happening, but then we often let them slip. Soon, there would be another September 11, another Jonestown cult suicide and another airplane crash from poor maintenance. As it is said History keep repeating itself.

I often want to shout, DO YOU HAVE TO WAIT FOR THE NATION'S SECURITY TO BE BREACHED BEFORE YOU ACT? Well, soon thousands would die again. Then people would blame the government for failing in keeping them secure. WHATEVER!

I know many people see these things as incredulous or extreme but I actually praise these efforts, though it is still imperfect, it helps keep things from escalating to a possible tragedy... and feel sad and disappointed when enforcement become lax. They said that there is no security breach, but who knew? There could have been and it's another tragedy waiting to happen... just because they don't investigate it until it was too late.

If the terrorist and others is intelligent enough they could easily use this little slips to create big troubles.

Thursday, November 15, 2012 at 8:02 PM

Tod the tool guy in brooklyn ny said:

I know ,in my heart, that Petraeus is a better man than newspapers say. The CIA director's name is known, but other agents names are supposed to be classified. WJC's sexcapades led to impeachment charges by house managers, including Henry Hyde-who also had HIS infidelity broadcast.The famous declassified spy was Valerie Plame.

Friday, November 16, 2012 at 5:36 AM