Nocera and Collins

Mr. Blow is off today.  In “Hacking General Petraeus” Mr. Nocera has a question:  Why is David Petraeus’s private life the business of the F.B.I. anyway?  Well, Joey, because his mistress was being investigated at the behest, one might point out, of an FBI agent involved with the woman who received threatening e-mails from said mistress.  I hope that clears it up for you.  Had you really wanted to address the issue of the erosion of privacy in the country you could have done that years ago.  You didn’t have to wait to hang it off a tawdry scandal.  Just sayin’…  Ms. Collins also has a question:  “Anybody Notice a Pattern?”  She says it appears that Mitt Romney was a terrible presidential candidate.  He certainly conducted the campaign in a way that made you think he wanted to lose…  Here’ss Mr. Nocera:

This is not going to end well for the F.B.I.

We are now entering the second phase of the David Petraeus scandal. The first phase began on Nov. 9 when Petraeus revealed that he had had an affair and resigned as C.I.A. director. For the next week, the press scrambled to keep abreast of every head-spinning new plot twist. General Petraeus slept with whom? Jill Kelley did what? Petraeus’s biographer/mistress titled her book what? Phase 1 of any big national scandal ends when the New York tabloids stop writing their laugh-out-loud cover headlines (“Cloak and Shag Her” screamed The New York Post) and relegate the story to the inside pages. That happened on Friday.

In Phase 2, people begin to grapple with the scandal’s larger meaning, assuming, of course, that it has some larger meaning. The sordid John Edwards affair, for instance, showed that he had never been fit for public office, much less the vice presidency. The Bernie Madoff scandal showed that investors will happily suspend disbelief when their fund manager’s returns are too good to be true.

But the Petraeus scandal could well end up teaching some very different lessons. If the most admired military man in a generation can have his e-mail hacked by F.B.I. agents, then none of us are safe from the post-9/11 surveillance machine. And if an affair is all it takes to force such a man from office, then we truly have lost all sense of proportion.

Let’s go back to the scene of the so-called crime, to Tampa, Fla., where Kelley, an attractive wannabe socialite, gets some unsettling e-mails from an anonymous sender. If she had any sense, she would block the e-mail address and be done with it. But because she knows that men will bend the rules for her — after all, high-ranking military officers granted her unfettered access to MacDill Air Force Base — she goes to her (male) F.B.I. friend, who advocates with his superiors for an investigation. They agree.

But on what grounds? I looked up the cyber-stalking statute. It says that a crime has been committed when e-mail “causes substantial emotion distress” or places the victim in “reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury.”

This strikes me as a pretty high standard. It is possible, I suppose, that the anonymous e-mails Kelley was getting from Paula Broadwell, Petraeus’s former mistress, met that standard. And the F.B.I. has worked hard to make Broadwell’s e-mails sound as threatening as possible. But once they leak out, as they surely will, I strongly suspect that we’ll see that the law was just a fig leaf.

So, too, with the “classified information” Broadwell is supposed to have. (And didn’t you love the F.B.I.’s big show of carting away her computers?) Given the government’s propensity, since 9/11, to stamp “classified” on every piece of paper short of the paper towels in the commissary, my guess is that this claim is also going to turn out to be less than earth-shattering. Once the F.B.I. learned the truth — that it was just about sex — it needed a high-minded rationale to keep snooping. Broadwell did the F.B.I. a huge favor by leaving “classified” information on her computer.

I understand why Petraeus felt he needed to resign; the affair had violated his own code of honor. I also understand that his propensity for publicity and control made him unpopular among the C.I.A. rank-and-file. But I still wish President Obama had refused his request to resign.

I wish the president had said that although General Petraeus had made a mistake in his personal life — an all-too-human mistake, made by millions of people every day — the consequences of that mistake should be dealt with by him, his wife and his former lover. I wish he had said that the affair should not trump his decades of public service, or stop him from continuing to serve. I wish he had said that the Justice Department’s inspector general was going to conduct an inquiry into whether the F.B.I. had acted appropriately in handling Kelley’s complaint.

On MSNBC on Friday afternoon, Andrea Mitchell spoke to Senator Roy Blunt, a Republican from Missouri, who had just come from a closed-door Intelligence Committee meeting where Petraeus had testified.

“Do you think he had to resign?” she asked.

“Based on what I know, I wouldn’t think so,” Blunt replied. “Clearly,” he added, “this is not someone who is going to be subject to blackmail.” Thus did Blunt swat away the one legitimate rationale for forcing Petraeus from his job because of his affair.

In the weeks to come, a lot more people are going to come to the same conclusion — and are going to ask the same questions about the ease with which the government can look at our e-mails and peep into our bedrooms. Such a rethinking is long overdue.

Here’s Ms. Collins:

It appears that Mitt Romney was a terrible presidential candidate.

O.K., some people have known that ever since the story broke about strapping his dog on the car roof. But now we seem to be reaching a consensus.

First, there was that matter of losing the election. Then this week Romney told some of his donors that while he was pursuing the “big issues,” President Obama had purchased the support of blacks, Hispanics and young people with goodies like college loans and health care reform. College-age women, Romney claimed, traded their votes for “free contraceptives.”

Show them a birth control pill and they’ll follow you anywhere.

Romney said all this in a private conference call, so he couldn’t have suspected that it would wind up in the media. There is no precedent whatsoever for reporters getting hold of remarks presidential candidates make to private groups about the inherent greediness of American voters.

Nevertheless, quite a few Republicans thought it was a bad idea to insult the integrity of American youth and minorities at a moment when everybody agreed that the electoral future belonged to American youth and minorities.

“Romney, take responsibility for being flawed candidate, w/delusional campaign w/no vision,” tweeted Ana Navarro, a Republican strategist.

“I don’t want to rebut him point by point. I would just say to you, I don’t believe that we have millions and millions of people in this country that don’t want to work,” said Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.

Florida is flooded with potential Republican presidential candidates, the top two being Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush. That’s reasonable — except, have you noticed that things in Florida always have a tendency to get a little weird? Is it an accident that the woman at the center of the Petraeus scandal — the one with the financial troubles and the glamorous twin — is from Tampa? This week former Gov. Charlie Crist officially repudiated reports in a London paper that he and the twin used to date.

For Republicans, the mood after the election was so bad that — I know you will be shocked to hear this — a Republican Party official in Texas advocated leaving the Union. “We must contest every single inch of ground and delay the baby-murdering, tax-raising socialists at every opportunity,” wrote Peter Morrison, treasurer of the Hardin County Republican Party. “But in due time, the maggots will have eaten every morsel of flesh off of the rotting corpse of the Republic, and therein lies our opportunity.” (To be fair, you can’t judge an entire state by one county political official. Although Bud Kennedy, a columnist for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, pointed out that Morrison had once been chosen to help screen public school textbooks for the State Board of Education.)

Romney supporters couldn’t believe that they had lost fairly. The Maine Republican chairman was breathlessly reporting that “dozens, dozens of black people” had mysteriously shown up to vote in rural areas.

Now things are calmer — perhaps because, if they want to, Republicans can just blame everything on Romney’s poor campaign skills. Really terrible skills! Maybe the worst presidential candidate in American history! Well, possibly not worse than Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, who got only 8 percent of the electoral vote against Thomas Jefferson. But Thomas Jefferson had the Louisiana Purchase. If Barack Obama had bought Manitoba, Republicans would have understood his winning.

And actually not quite as bad as John McCain, who got fewer electoral votes when he lost in 2008 than Romney just got. But at least McCain has gone on to provide service to the country in the Senate, such as his current attempts to warn the nation that we haven’t been told enough about what happened during the tragic attack on Benghazi.

McCain was so desperate to sound the alarm that he missed a classified briefing on Benghazi to hold a press conference complaining that he had not been given enough information. Which clearly he hadn’t. He knew nothing! Nothing whatsoever! And what was the administration going to do about that?

“It is essential for the Congress to conduct its own independent assessment,” said the senator, demanding that Congress form a special committee to look into Libya. This would be a double benefit, helping to inform all the members who missed their normal committee briefings while also addressing the continuing national crisis over the shortage of congressional committees.

Afterward, McCain was his normal even-tempered self. (“Because I have the right as a senator to have no comment and who the hell are you to tell me if I can or not?”) But you did have to wonder. McCain. Then Romney. Now, all these guys from Florida and Paul Ryan, who when last heard from was blaming his ticket’s defeat on the “urban” vote.

Somewhere, there’s a right-wing Michael Dukakis waiting for the phone to ring.


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