By Louis A. Ruprecht Jr., Georgia State University
President Obama’s Press Secretary, Jay Carney, put it this way: “The President believes that everyone who serves the American people by working for this government needs to hold themselves to the highest standards of public service.”
Mitt Romney was pithier; he said he’d “clean house.”
A thoughtful US citizen might well wonder what they were referring to, sadly enough, because there are so many scandals to choose from.
There is the GSA scandal, first of all: Hundreds of thousands of dollars squandered by a federal bureaucracy for lavish entertaining in Las Vegas and the Napa Valley. The outrage expressed for this one is already bipartisan and utterly emotive.
But there is also the Secret Service scandal, involving (at present counting) twelve Secret Service officers who engaged in some lavish entertaining of their own, in Cartagena, Columbia, several short days prior to the President’s visit. Here the enquiry had less to do with the expense, and more to do with the sex. Apparently, a number of Secret Service officers had hired escorts—prostitutes, thank you very much—for a late night party at their hotel.
Conspicuously absent from this list of potential scandals is the report printed by the Los Angeles Times that US service personnel in Afghanistan have been at it again, this time photographing themselves with severed body parts they claim belong to Taliban suicide bombers.
So we’ve got a choice here, and we’ve got it all: money, sex, and violent disregard.
My concern has to do with the sinking sense that I know exactly which one of these stories has legs. The military story is already half-forgotten 24 hours later. Apparently those people “who serve the American people by working for the government” get a pass.
The GSA story has legs, especially as we learn more about what exactly transpired in Vegas and Napa Valley. The money can’t all have been for psychics and for clowns.
The story that is sure to last is the Secret Service scandal. Because there’s sex involved. Sure, it’s sex somebody allegedly paid for, but nobody is alleging that a US government agency paid for it. These boys paid for their own party. It’s not a violation of public funds that’s at issue here; it’s sex, pure and simple.
It is dismaying that the sexual obsessions of contemporary US culture could so completely stack the deck against caring about what, by any reasonable moral accounting, is the worst of these three.
Ever since Homer first channeled his Muse, the mutilation of the enemy corpse has been a symbol of the very worst of which humanity is capable. And such violations almost always carried consequences, immediate ones. As we continue to turn a blind eye to what our own moral callousness vis-à-vis a perceived enemy, alive or dead, implies, invocations of “the highest standards of public service” will continue to appear to be as hollow and hypocritical as our enemies take them to be.