What was at stake here was priggishness, not values. As others have pointed out, many of Petraeus's predecessors have had affairs as have many of their bosses and colleagues in the White House, on Capitol Hill, or elsewhere in public life. That periodically, as in the case of Petraeus or, before that Bill Clinton, some such private peccadilloes trigger scandal and many others do not, is one sign that something other than consistent application of national values is at work here. But the fact that recently the parade of public figures who have seen their careers brought to an end because of sexual misconduct has been so long -- stretching from John Edwards to an airport men's room stall in the Upper Midwest -- is a source of bewilderment and ridicule in other nations worldwide, where they hold the quaint notion that private behavior of public officials that does not affect the way they do their jobs should remain private.
It is not news that America has long been willing to chart a course quite different from that of other nations. We've always had a bit of a puritanical streak, which we have spun in our own minds into a sign of national character. But it is a different dimension of American exceptionalism that makes this whole Petraeus dust-up truly gross rather than merely ridiculous.
The real scandal here is that when the head of the CIA sleeps with someone who is not his wife, it causes a national scandal, but when the agency manages a drone program that serially violates the sovereignty of nations worldwide, that it helps formulate and then execute "kill lists" that make James Bond's most egregious sprees of violence look a kindergarten birthday party, it does not.
Our values are, it seems, even more twisted than Bond's. At least he is not so grotesquely hypocritical. It has long riled some among us that Congress thought it appropriate to impeach Bill Clinton over trivialities associated with his personal missteps, while never once challenging George W. Bush for the far greater misdeeds and very likely crimes associated with America's invasion of Iraq. We seem to be a nation that can tolerate the violation of the law, the deaths of innocents, and the gross misallocation of national assets without blinking an eye -- provided that the architects of such egregious wrongs keep their flies zipped.
Who says it's Hollywood that's screwing up America's values? We seem to be outdoing the world's finest screenwriters on that front -- and doing so without any of the charm or crisp one-liners that allow us to forgive movie wantons like James Bond.