This article, inspired by David Petraeus’s resignation from the CIA, is supremely silly. Its major premise is that “there would seem to be nothing new about the weakness of otherwise powerful Washington figures in the face of temptation. But that is not precisely true: the difference these days is that it is virtually impossible to get away with it.”
Here’s my take as a professional historian, friends:
- First of all, all of the historical cases cited are cited because in spite of the fact that they happened before 1990, we know about them anyway. Sally Hemings was an issue in both the 1800 and the 1804 presidential campaigns. Alexander Hamilton published a pamphlet in which he confessed to his affair with Maria Reynolds. Clearly, the non-digital partisan press of the turn of the nineteenth century was enough to press the issue of sexual morality and political virtue more than two centuries ago.
- Secondly, if people are using their Twitter or email accounts to send raunchy photos or arrange trysts–something you’d think the nation’s top spy of all people would know to avoid–then of course it’s going to be easy to discover and trace.
- So here’s my advice: if you want to get up to some nasty, immoral, and/or extramarital sex thing, don’t use e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, blogs to communicate, and don’t even text the object of your nasty desires or about your nasty desires. Just don’t. We don’t want to hear about it, and speaking as a historian, I can guarantee you that although your reputation as a public official might survive your nasty sex scandal, you probably don’t want people sniggering and making jokes about it for the next few decades, or centuries.
- Gratuitous personal interjection: People say Washington is Hollywood for ugly people, and this may be a big part of the problem. (I’m kind of surprised that no one has written about this before. Have you seen a picture of David Petraeus? Does he look like anyone’s dream boyfriend? Jeezus.) The men who have got caught recently are men who probably didn’t have girlfriends or boyfriends in High School or college, so my bet is that they’re extremely easy marks as middle-aged (and older) men when people flirt with them. If more of them were getting their knobs polished at a developmentally appropriate age and stage of life, then my bet is that they’d be able to handle the flattery and sexual overtures they get as congressmen, presidents, and agency heads. I’m just sayin’.
Quite frankly, the sex neither surprises nor disturbs me much. It’s the stupid. And that’s why Petraeus had to resign: it’s not the sex (although I’m sure he violated some military codes of conduct in that as well–it’s the stupid. Once more, and with feeling!)