No more secret lives
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Alexander Hamilton, Warren Harding, FDR, Ike, LBJ, Reps. Mark Souder, Chris Lee and Anthony Weiner, Sens. Gary Hart, John Ensign and David Vitter. Maybe a first lady, Grace Coolidge. And now, David H. Petraeus.
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.
Petraeus, the military commander and director of the Central Intelligence Agency, resigned on Friday after admitting to an affair with a woman later identified by Obama administration officials as his biographer.
His is but the most recent in an embarrassment of splashy political scandals: Vitter of Louisiana, exposed in 2009 as the client of high-priced prostitutes; Weiner of New York, who confessed in 2011 to sending explicit photographs to women; Ensign of Nevada, who resigned last year after admitting to an illicit affair with a staff member. Souder of Indiana quit in 2010 after an anonymous tipster exposed his relationship with a staff member with whom he had taped a video promoting sexual abstinence. Lee of New York left office the same year after emailing a photograph of himself, shirtless, to a woman he met on Craigslist.
"It shocks me how people continue in this type of reckless behaviour, even in prominent leadership positions, and don't seem to think there's going to be a consequence," said Wesley O. Hagood, who wrote a compendium of presidential dalliances. "If they'd just pay attention and turn on the news, they'd know there's going to be a consequence."
Petraeus was tripped up by an FBI investigation that stumbled across his extramarital relationship. But in a digital era when the details of even average citizens are cached for public view, the odds of exposure have become exponentially greater.