Saving General Petraeus

PRINCETON – The United States has moved from the high of a presidential election to the low of a political sex scandal in one short week. For many Americans, the election demonstrated what is best about the country, only to be followed by the sadly familiar process of knocking heroes off their pedestals. For many non-Americans, the election brought the welcome and reassuring victory of Barack Obama, whereas the resignation of David Petraeus as Director of the CIA was an unnecessary, self-inflicted wound.

In fact, both the election and Petraeus’s resignation are pieces of a larger whole: an America that lives up to its promises.

The election reminded many Americans that the US is a country committed to and capable of progress – of moving forward toward an ideal vision. Obama was supported by a coalition of minorities: African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, Muslim-Americans, gay and lesbian Americans, and an under-represented majority – women – all of whom perceive continuing inequalities and injustices that need to be remedied. But the winners were all who believe that America is, in fact, dedicated to “equal justice under law,” the words emblazoned on the pediment of the Supreme Court.

In the election of an African-American president less than a half-century after the end of official racial segregation in much of the country, these Americans see the triumph of the values enshrined in the US Constitution over America’s legacy of social, political, and economic prejudice. They see a president committed to the advancement of all Americans, regardless of race, gender, creed, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, handicap, or economic status.