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Better to be caught with your pants down than your hand in the till

Date

Fleshy failings are almost forgivable, but public purse rorters with no remorse? That's indecent.

Tangled network ... General David Petraeus, left, with Jill Kelley, second right, Ms Kelley's husband, Scott, and General Petraeus's wife, Hollly.

Tangled network ... General David Petraeus, left, with Jill Kelley, second right, Ms Kelley's husband, Scott, and General Petraeus's wife, Hollly. Photo: AP

AM I the only person in the world who could not care less if David Petraeus was shagging his biographer? I mean - don't get me wrong. I'm reading all the stories, because I'm a shameless hypocrite just like every other gutter-brained internet browser who maintains a proud interest in quality news. Plus, it's impossible not to be absorbed by the sheer magnificence of the military strategy and time management skills on display as Petraeus, while US army chief, juggles an entire army, a muscular mistress, an apparently rigorous simultaneous relationship with a "social liaison officer" in Tampa and the wildcard factor of some shirtless FBI agent to boot.

It's organisationally impressive, at the very least - surely there must be a military braid for that level of hand-eye co-ordination.

But should it really be the end of his career?

Monica Lewinsky with Bill Clinton.

Monica Lewinsky with Bill Clinton.

US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has now announced a military ethics review, after being questioned about the whole intrigue during his Australian trip this week. Panetta's travelling companion, Hillary Clinton, didn't have much to say about Petraeus, but there's a woman whose life would have been made much, much easier had her husband (right, with Monica Lewinsky) restricted himself to a spot of discreet biographer-rogering and left it at that.

Unlike president Clinton, Petraeus didn't fib, squirm or dissemble when he was busted. Having already discontinued the affair, he announced that he had failed his own and the army's moral standards, and marched himself briskly out of the building. No whining interviews about how everybody else was doing it. No self-pitying departure lounge press conferences sobbing about how one goatish lapse had overshadowed all the other great work he'd done.

Why was it so head-spinningly weird to see a major public figure cop it sweet in such a prompt fashion, without staying to argue the toss about whether the resignation was absolutely, entirely unavoidable?

Oh, yeah - right. It's because that pretty much never happens.

It's incredibly rare for a public figure, having succumbed to an indulgence, to respond by forbidding himself further indulgence.

Which is what, funnily enough, makes Petraeus quite a loss to public life. Sometimes the best test of a person is not the wrongdoing they commit - everybody sins to some extent - but the way they handle it.

Compare the Petraeus form, for example, to what's unfolded before the eyes of an entranced nation at the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption this week. Now, jokes about the moral standards within the NSW Labor government during its "Last Days Of Rome" phase are more or less redundant.

But the sheer, plodding venality of the behaviour described in evidence this week is soul-destroying. Not because it's surprising - more because it isn't. The NSW populace has received the news that up to $100 million in profits may have accrued to the family of former powerbroker Eddie Obeid with the dullest of shrugs.

The Obeid family, which bought up chunks of the Bylong Valley and encouraged friends to do the same in anticipation of the granting of mining licences by a ministerial chum, do not appear to have given themselves a hard time about the moral issues involved.

Obeid pal Rocco Triulcio, who went in on some local farm property with the Obeids, didn't even bother to do any cramming before his ICAC appearance this week, during which he insisted that he was interested in the farm for its bounteous grass, dams and "leisure" potential, while confirming he had not actually visited it post-purchase, let alone personally gambolled upon its meadowy expanses or fished the depths of its tempting dams.

This seems a breach of the scammer's contract. At least do us the courtesy of cooking up a proper story, or pretending to be interested in sheep! But no - the overwhelming tone of the ICAC inquiry has been one of dull unsurprise - from the perps that they've been sprung, and from the public that it was going on all this time.

It's enough to make you yearn for the ministers who lost their jobs for more fleshly failings - poor old John Della Bosca, who had a fling with a young lady called Harmony, or David Campbell who was filmed emerging from a bath-house catering specifically to the broad-minded gent.

Or even Matt Brown, who lost the police portfolio after dancing in his undies at a Parliament House party.

Personal failings are personal failings. Let public figures answer to their own gods in private for the sorts of stupid, unoriginal, universally human sins that have been plaguing humanity ever since Adam and Eve spotted the apple tree.

These transgressions should never be confused with the real crimes of public life - the enrichment of self at public expense, and the failure to repent of it.

Give me the rooters over the rorters, every time.

Annabel Crabb writes for ABC Online's The Drum, at www.abc.net.au/thedrum. She tweets as @annabelcrabb.

7 comments so far

  • Totally agree , Anabelle , and what especially irks me is that Obeid , Rozendaal . Macdonald , Tripodi and all their "mates" "associates" "colleagues" and other hangers-on , trough-snouters and bottom-feeders called themselb\ves LABOR people. They posessed not one atom of the Labor ethos but managed to destroy the reputation of Labor so much the Labor movement will probably never recover. Thanks for giving us years and years of O'Farrell (who is only a front for Greiner) and Abbott and Pyne and the rest of them you low-life's. And i bet not one of the guilty will do any jail time , not even community service. They won't even lose their Parliamentary pensions. Bah ! Grrrr !! ...Sigh....( b.t.w no way i could watch your dinner with Joe Hockey , would've made me ill.)

    Commenter
    daniel
    Location
    rural nsw
    Date and time
    November 18, 2012, 9:28AM
    • You should have watched the Joe Hockey barbecue - he comes across as a good bloke with no side; on the other hand that moron Peter Garrett came across as precisely that - a name parachuted into a job he can't handle - just more Labor rorting.

      Commenter
      Vai Tibi
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      November 18, 2012, 11:00AM
  • A positively enjoyable rhetoric

    Commenter
    Outback Storm
    Location
    Alice Springs
    Date and time
    November 18, 2012, 10:05AM
    • We may not care but it would be terminal for his career. At his level his ability to be blackmailed and who his pillow talk is shared with will matter and partners vetted. Overlaid with the artificial Dudley Do Right , PC expectations of US public life and its good night for him. Corporate america and the speaking circuit will love him though, I doubt he will feel much pain apart from a dented ego.

      Commenter
      yarpos
      Location
      melburg
      Date and time
      November 18, 2012, 10:15AM
      • Pin-point et Funny. But I agree huck tha turkey at those poli dinners.

        Commenter
        Apostasy no
        Date and time
        November 18, 2012, 11:46AM
        • Regarding the rooters (and I'm skating on very thin ice here).
          It's almost always a famous male that is brought down by an unknown female.
          I can't even think of a famous female who has been brought undone through harmless horizontal lambada. Why is this so? Do famous women have extreme restraints or more sense? After all, it takes tutu tango.

          My theory is that a famous man is a trophy to be trapped, ensnared, brought down. Some of that money and power will rub off on the huntress.
          The woman involved is invariably shameless, revealing much more information than we need. Then they write a book about it.
          I don't think the English language has a word that covers this scenario.

          Commenter
          johnno
          Location
          Sydney
          Date and time
          November 18, 2012, 12:02PM
          • Thanks Annabel for the brilliantly funny article. You have made my Sunday.
            Like most real tax paying people I am much more concerned about the rorts and will remember them at election time.

            Commenter
            Eddy
            Date and time
            November 18, 2012, 12:04PM

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