Crowley: Petraeus resignation reinvigorates America’s obsession with sex

The recent resignation of CIA director and prominent military mind General David Petraeus is just the next page in a centuries-old story of politicians schtupping their way into trouble.

It’s also just the latest event causing us, the public, to question how much of these people’s lives are our business.

There’s a short list of examples where a politician clearly broke the law with their sexual dalliances, including former New York Governor Elliot Spitzer. Spitzer, a long time advocate of prosecuting prostitution rings in New York, was caught himself using the services of a Washington, D.C.-area madame.

Outside of this kind of obvious scenario, we have no business sticking our collective nose into other people’s sex lives.

We can probably agree that, at least in most cases, adultery is not a very good or honorable thing to do. Indeed, we might be justified in looking down our noses at public figures who manage to let their affairs go public – especially those who purport to represent so-called “family values.”

However, our own moral reproach should not be a reason for someone to resign his office. I may receive some level of backlash for saying this, but human relationships are complicated endeavors. We, without knowing any facts, are hardly in a position to be Petraeus’, or anyone else’s, judge and jury.

Further, unless a person’s moral failings have direct relevance to their job, it should not be on the table for public discussion either way.

In this case, since the facts seem to indicate that his affair did not put our nation’s secrets or security at risk, he should not have resigned. It could even be argued that his resignation harmed our country more than his affair by creating instability in the Intelligence apparatus.

This wouldn’t be the first time that our societal obsession with other people’s private lives hurt us in the long run.

In the 1990’s, Bill Clinton’s affairs came to light and dominated our political landscape for over a year. In that time, we could have been focusing on any number of issues – all of which would have been more constructive than focusing on Monica Lewinsky’s stained dress.

Toward the later end of the Bush Administration, a rash of Republicans in Congress were caught straying from their marriages in heterosexual and other ways. Here again, it served only as a distraction form these members’ position on policy questions by drawing our attention to the position of a particular Senator’s bathroom stance.

This focus we have on scandalizing the sex lives of our politicians only serves to distract us from work that needs doing.

To some extent the problem is generational. As time goes on, young people will be able to force the dialogue to change. Since Victorian times, the march of sexual liberation has been constant – change on this issue seems almost inevitable.

I admit it’s not ideal for our leaders to be having affairs – that goes double when they fail to keep it under wraps. Unfortunately, the problem is not new and it is not going away any time soon. We need to move on, and realize it isn’t worth losing good leaders over poor personal choices.

Colin Crowley is a senior political science and philosophy major. His column appears online weekly. He can be reached at and followed on Twitter at @colincrowley.



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