Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012 | 2 a.m.
There are still people freezing back East. They still are sitting in the dark, waiting for someone to turn the power back on. And there are new, potentially deadly, storms on the way.
Farther south, inside the Beltway, there is a fiscal cliff or some other economic disaster waiting to happen because some of the Republicans in Congress still are playing a pre-election game — trying to deny President Barack Obama a second term — and some Democrats have misread the election results to mean something other than that the voters want people working together and advancing the cause of the middle class.
Much farther to the east, the Middle East to be exact, there are Arab countries in varying states of political and economic disarray, threatening each other and now the state of Israel, such that Israel feels compelled to defend herself rather forcefully, all of which could lead the United States to a place it does not want to go just yet.
And across our own country, there are still millions of people out of work, out of luck and mostly out of options, and our political leadership still is arguing about not how to help but whether to help at all.
You might say we have all the big and little problems we can handle at one time.
So what do the media, the public, the politicians and most everyone else do while these seemingly unsolvable and intractable issues continue to enmesh our lives?
Simple, we focus on the sex lives of some of our finest military and civilian leaders to the point of utter distraction!
In my day, a big-time sex scandal had names like John Profumo, the British secretary of war, intertwined with women named Mandy Rice-Davies and Christine Keeler, who were what one might call “party girls” in the day. A scandal in Britain could never be as simple as an affair with a call girl or two. No, in that case, the world was in the heat of the Cold War and there were allegations as well as admissions of sexual liaisons, breaches of classified information — at least if you can call knowledge of nuclear payloads classified — and connections right up to the prime minister’s office.
Given our relationship with the Soviet Union, anything that even suggested the passing of secrets over the transom or across the pillow was the stuff from which scandals should and would be made. In the end, Profumo resigned, as did Prime Minister Harold Mcmillan a few months later. The scandal was about the Soviets and espionage. The methodology involved sex!
Meanwhile, back in the colonies, as best I can tell, there was an affair between retired Gen. David Petraeus, the CIA chief, and Paula Broadwell. And there wasn’t an affair of any kind between Jill Kelley and Marine Gen. John Allen. And although the facts aren’t all in, it doesn’t appear there were any state secrets revealed or shared or classified information transferred by the generals, however that gets done. What we probably are left with is that what Profumo and Petraeus have in common is sex with very attractive women. Not exactly a first in the annals of mankind.
Oh, yes, they also have something else in common, at least as it relates to Gen. Petraeus and, perhaps, Gen. Allen. And that would be the significant loss of the talent, experience and considerable leadership ability of two men whose dedication to public service is unassailable. And that is a shame.
This hang-up we have in our country about private sexual encounters — that should only involve spouses, families and those directly involved — can take an oversized toll on public service that I believe adversely affects the entire country. Who knows what contributions David Petraeus was yet to make in his service to our country. It appears we will never know.
But we do know about the service of others to the United States whose accomplishments on our behalf might have never happened had emails, 24-hour news channels and the ability to search the Internet with impunity existed as they do today, coupled with a public attitude so willing to condemn private weaknesses in a most public way.
We can start with Thomas Jefferson. Remember him? He was a really big deal when it came to writing the Declaration of Independence. Oh yes, he was the third president of the United States, made the Louisiana Purchase, founded the University of Virginia, started the Lewis and Clark expedition (and we all know what happened with that little excursion) and did so much more at a time when our country needed leadership like his.
Did I mention his relationship with the slave, Sally Hemings, and the children he was supposed to have fathered with her? How do you think that would have played 200 years ago if they had an Internet? He would have been forced to resign, and where would we be now?
Remember Franklin Delano Roosevelt? Can you imagine what might not have happened had his longtime affair with Lucy Page Mercer been the stuff of emails and tweets? As a four-term president, he led us through the Great Depression, a world war, the New Deal, Social Security and gave us Harry Truman as his vice president. Had he resigned because of the scandal of an extramarital affair — without serious allegations of spy-like skullduggery — who would have done all that for the United States?
There is a long list of powerful men in public office who had private dalliances — and women, too — each of whom made major contributions to the body politic, almost all of which would not have happened had resignations been their only way out. How about we just throw a few initials out — DDE, JFK, LBJ, WJC — just to almost name a few.
What David Petraeus did by resigning was the honorable thing to do as a man committed to the military and the military way of life. He messed up, and he paid big-time for it. But all he did was mess up in a matter that, absent a larger security-like scandal, was a private matter between him and his family.
And, yet, here we are using precious public time to satisfy some basic human need to “look in” on the other guy’s problems when, in truth, it delays our own responsibility to deal with that which really should concern us. Remember the people freezing in the Northeast without power or heat or light? Remember the fiscal cliff that needs to be avoided so ordinary Americans don’t get crushed in the name of some misguided ideology? Remember the middle class that needs action from political leaders and needs it now? Remember the Middle East that could go up in flames any day for lack of American focus and a steady American hand on the levers of war?
So, while our heroes diddle, America is burning with the misguided desire of our people to focus on issues that shouldn’t concern them. Resignations are not the answer. Leadership is. Even with its many faults.
Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.