Sex remains the surest prop for all that is funny — and sad. In the first instance, we often call the result ribaldry. In the second instance, it is always called tragedy.
In war, Gen. David H. Petraeus has been a hero. In public service, too, he was a national asset. Toward the end of his soldiering, however, his life is cast in doubt, and as the head of CIA, the doubt has increased. Almost certainly as director of central intelligence, he was no Dick Helms or Bill Casey. Those names from a better era illuminate the drear of this tawdry episode, and I hope it is merely tawdry, not anything more than that. Certainly, it could not be the national betrayal spoken of by Ben Stein this week at Spectator.org, could it?
For now, at least in the case of Mr. Petraeus, this leggy scandal is a tragedy, particularly when it comes to his children, his wife and his "storied career," as the news accounts term it. In the case of Paula Broadwell, the general's inamorata, it was a disaster waiting to happen. All that running, performing push-ups (partial), the graduate work in a fictive study at Harvard University, the stylish dress (usually out of place), the "competitiveness" — egads! I could have put Mr. Petraeus in touch with a seasoned international playboy who would have taken one look at this perfumed stalker and counseled caution. Get out, General, while you can. This woman is trouble and, not to betray my sources, she has been trouble for years.
We live in an era awash in sex — or what another generation called sexual hygiene. There is sex education at an early age. Continuing sex education goes on through adolescence. When life begins for young adults, Americans have more information about sex than almost any other discipline, and most of it is useless. They still get pregnant out of wedlock in vast numbers, have abortions and suffer all the other calamities associated with sex. Who doubts that Mr. Petraeus, when he is asked to reveal the details of his sexual adventures in public, will get the shouted question, "General, did you practice safe sex?" The question has been asked before.
We all recognize the American educator or health professional — usually female — who serves as the know-it-all adviser to society on sex. Remember Dr. Joycelyn Elders, President Clinton's surgeon general? She was agog on the topic of sex. One of her forward-looking specialties was alternative sexual practices, which she thought should be taught in schools. Her pontifications got her fired from her job as surgeon general but not before she had held forth on contraception, too.
She was for it, and she made as much a pest of herself on contraception as the delusional women in the recent election. They seemed to see themselves as irresistible to the male of the species, and thus it was a matter of national security that they receive all manner of free birth control, from intrauterine devices to extrauterine devices. Dr. Elders doubtless agreed. For sheer hilarity, give me sex any day.
Now Mrs. Broadwell's father has stepped from his home in Bismarck, N.D., and informed the New York Daily News that his daughter is the target of "character assassination." This I cannot conceive, but I agree with him as he went on to say, "This is about something else entirely, and the truth will come out." He added, "There's a lot more here than meets the eye." Ben Stein says the eye should be on Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. Yes, perhaps, but I would keep an eye on Benghazi and not forget Mrs. Broadwell's revelations about Libyans being held prisoner in Benghazi by our CIA.
R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is founder and editor-in-chief of the American Spectator and an adjunct scholar at the Hudson Institute. He is the author most recently of "The Death of Liberalism" (Thomas Nelson, 2012).
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