Nelson Algren, the great Chicago writer, provided American males with three timeless rules for life:
Never play cards with a man named “Doc.” Never eat at a place called “Mom’s.” And never lie down with a woman who has more troubles than you do.
We have learned that Petraeus — almost revered by the media who covered him and by so many in Congress for his intellect, leadership and skill — was a man of flawed judgment. In February 2010, when Petraeus was commander of the U.S. Central Command, with its headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., he and Mrs. Petraeus attended a Gasparilla Pirate Festival party at the Tampa home of Jill and Dr. Scott Kelley.
The general made the approximately nine-mile trip to the Kelley home in the company of a 28-police officer motorcycle escort. That’s right, 28 on-duty police officers, instead of patrolling the city or walking a neighborhood beat, were diverted in order to provide a papal-size motorcade to accompany Petraeus to a social event.
What level of self-importance would you have to have reached in order not to reject out of hand as personally unacceptable so obvious a misuse of the time and talents of public safety officers?
You want more evidence? How about Petraeus’ backing of Jill Kelley’s twin sister, Natalie Khawam, who, according to District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Neal Kravitz, who had ruled against her in a custody case involving her 4-year-old son, “appears to lack any appreciation or respect for the importance of honesty and integrity in her interactions with her family, employers and others with whom she comes in contact.”
So Petraeus chooses to wade into the middle of a bitter domestic relations fight and “having known her for approximately three years,” writes a letter to the court stating that he and his wife, Holly, had seen firsthand “a very loving relationship” between Khawam and her son when they and the Kelleys had been the Petraeuses’ guests for Christmas dinner.
The nation’s top spy, ever discreet and shrewd, in order to communicate with — perhaps to send coded sweet nothings to — his biographer-lover, Paula Broadwell, sets up a gmail account.
Broadwell, possibly upset by that Christmas dinner invitation, was not pleased with Jill Kelley’s personal friendship with Petraeus and, according to law enforcement officials who have investigated the case, sent anonymous, harassing emails to Kelley.
According to the New York Daily News, one unsigned email allegedly threatened to make Kelley “go away,” which has a menacing sound to it. If this is accurate, then Kelley’s seeking an FBI friend to find the identity of the sender of such messages becomes more understandable.
The hint of overly possessive-obsessive behavior toward the Married Man by the Other Woman recalls Alex Forest, the character so superbly created by Glenn Close in the 1987 blockbuster Fatal Attraction, who after a mad weekend fling with seemingly happily married lawyer Dan Gallagher, believably played by Michael Douglas, refuses to be “ignored” and makes unbearable the lives of the adulterous Gallagher and his family.
This movie, someone wisely observed, scared the pants onto countless married men. I recall meeting Close during the 2004 New Hampshire primary, when she wanted to talk politics and I just wanted to tell her (as she had probably heard 10,413 times) that she had done more for male marital fidelity in that one movie than all the sermons given from all the pulpits since 1950.
It was the great Southern writer Walker Percy who urged, “Do not be the kind of person who gets all As and flunks ordinary living.”
Judgment really does matter.
— Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him.