While Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan were busy denigrating the now legendary 47% of low-income workers, the elderly, the poor, military vets, the unemployed, etc., for their parasitic proclivities and, post election, the mouthpieces of the Right were writing off GOP losses to that “different America” filled with needy people who “want things,” (oh, Bill…!) – while all this bitch-slapping of the “freeloading” Left was going on, another contingent of American citizen – one unequivocally supported by American taxpayers – was busy racking up $82,000 on luxury travel, partying hearty with wild-things in a war zone, or spending oodles of time and bandwidth (and who knows what else) sending “20,000 to 30,000 pages of emails and other documents” to a cute Florida socialite with money problems.
You know who I’m talking about: the elite and entitled generals of the American military: David Petraeus, John Allen and William “Kip” Ward. You might not know about Ward yet, Allen is just moving into frontrunner status, and Petraeus has been the leading man all week. Let’s review: in one short week, we’ve seen:
- A highly decorated four-star general and head of the CIA, David Petraeus, taken down in the wake of a high-strung hissy fit by former lover, Paula Broadwell, who went all “fatal attraction” when another women piqued her Glenn Close-ian psychosis. This has now swept into…
- Another four-star general, John R. Allen, now under investigation for his reams (20-30 THOUSAND emails and documents over two years…when did he find time to conduct a war, for God’s sake??) of “flirtatious” emails sent to Jill Kelly, married, with children, loads of debt and apparently a contentious relationship with the aforementioned Broadwell, who got busy with emails too, sending a raft of harassing ones to Ms. Kelly, which triggered an FBI investigation and all the salacious drama that followed.
- Not involved in the Petraeus scandal but dabbling in one of his own, four-star general William “Kip” Ward, former head of the U.S. Africa Command, was stripped of a star by Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta, for “spending thousands of dollars on lavish travel and other unauthorized expenses,” including spa and shopping trips for his wife, to the tune of $82,000, all of which he’s been ordered to repay.
Is this spring break or the American military??
Certainly these men are all accomplished, honored, deeply responsible in most areas, and widely respected for their brave and exemplary service. But in each of these circumstances, they behaved like a bunch of entitled, out-of-control frat boys having some good fun on Daddy’s dime.
Now, before anyone gets their red, white and blue dander up, let me assert that this is not an indictment, nor a denigration, of the essential and urgent service provided by those in the military. Surely each of the three men mentioned above have made a significant contribution in their roles as military leaders. But there is also a stark comparison to be made here. Against a backdrop of the highly partisan election that’s just concluded and a political party with no compunction about vilifying, insulting and mischaracterizing half of this country as “takers” who voted for President Obama because “they want things,” there’s something profoundly distasteful in the discovery of a group of privileged men whose positions of power are wholly dependent upon government largess provided by taxpayers, allowing them financial subsistence well beyond that of the average American. Even after being demoted and ordered to pay back an amount of money that would send a 47%er to jail, General Ward will be well-compensated for his years of service:
“Retiring as a three-star will cost Ward about $30,000 a year in retirement pay – giving him close to $208,802 a year rather than the $236,650 he would get as a four-star.”
I don’t begrudge any military man or woman their safety net, compensation, or benefit perks. Many put themselves in extraordinary danger, many have sacrificed their lives in the execution of their duty, and many exhibit exemplary behavior that meets the standard of excellence and integrity expected of a soldier…certainly a four-star general. Which makes it all the more stunning when, in one week, we learn of three four-star generals who have abused their positions, behaved dishonorably, and ultimately brought shame on themselves, their families and their military.
As the investigations continue, it’s likely there will be more sordid, embarrassing details to report, which is a tragedy for every single person involved. But as we move between this story and the one that has captivated the country for the last year – the election, the country, and just who all of us are – it may be instructive to let this morality tale offer some perspective:
We cannot debase and degrade one group – the less fortunate – for being “takers” for using government safety nets, then turn a blind eye to those of power and privilege who actually do abuse their government support in the hubris of personal misbehaviors. To put it another way: expectations and demands for how citizens use taxpayer coffers cannot be required for one group and overlooked for another with greater status. Military man or mom on minimum wage, the same standards should apply.
Because as we’ve learned this week, “takers” appear to come in every name, rank and serial number.