There are many unanswered questions about General David Petraeus and Paula Broadwell, but their affair confirms one thing we already knew from Sigmund Freud: Sexual thoughts and feelings can trump most everything else. Millions of people risk their jobs and their fortunes and their marriages to connect sexually with those who make them feel passionate, alive and fulfilled--whether physically, spirtually or both.
The fact that David Petraeus finds himself in the same position as other great generals and presidents and corporate leaders is far, far less dangerous to America that the fact that we Americans are fixated on sex and apparently so repressed as a culture that we jump at every opportunity to talk about the sex lives of others, especially public figures. Since we can't seem to get our heads out of the pants and panties of newsmakers, we are at risk for losing sight of the really important matters that face us--like the economy and radical Islam.
We don't have leaders who fail us. They can do their jobs just fine while carrying on sexually with multiple partners, divorcing and remarrying several times or watching porn. These activities have nothing at all to do with professional competence, because the sex drive is so frequently an island unto itself. Judging a man or a woman entire based on that person's sexual behavior (when consensual and between adults) is, using a word that psychiatrists use too infrequently, idiotic.
The truth is that it is unseemly and morally wrong to probe the sex life of another human being. It is reprehensible. Questions of sexual behavior and morality are ones for a person, his or her therapist and his or her Higher Power. The policy that once shielded soldiers from prejudice based on their sexual orientations should pertain to all sexual activity of any individual: Don't ask. Don't tell.
Anyone who makes hay from another's roll in the hay should be shunned.
Those who argue that the nation could be put at risk because a military man or a politician or a CIA agent is having sex outside the context of marriage, because that person could be blackmailed, don't understand that anyone who would throw the country under the bus to hide an affair would throw the country under the bus to save himself from bankruptcy or to hide a gambling habit or a drug problem or a sexually transmitted disease or a sister who worked as a hooker or anything else. And, anyhow, the far greater danger is that looking into the sexual escapades of leaders will get others lost in their own sex drives.
That's right: Getting under the covers with Paula Broadwell and General Petraeus is a sexual act. Those who do it are looking for titillation and sexual gratification they can't find in their own lives. They don't want to spend the money on a Penthouse magazine or a racy movie or "Fifty Shades of Grey." And they are many times more offensive to me and more dangerous to our national interests than a man and woman who find comfort or compassion or, yes, sexual release with one another in this world so frequently empty of anything human, let alone anything intimate.
It is exactly and precisely none of our business whether David Petraeus was faithful to his wife, or not. It was exactly and precisely none of our business whether John Edwards was faithful to his wife, or not. It was exactly and precisely none of our business whether Bill Clinton had sex or not with Monica Lewinsky. Tiger Woods was our victim; we were not his. Former Governor Mark Sanford was our victim; the citizens of South Carolina were not his.
If the sexual activity of our leaders costs us something significant in America, it will not be because of the participants. It will be because of the audience of millions who want a little thrill under cover of moral outrage. This is, quite simply, a much uglier moment for Americans than for General Petraeus.
Keith Ablow, MD is a psychiatrist, and was host of the nationally-syndicated "Dr. Keith Ablow Show." He is a former member of the Fox News Medical A Team.