Forget Patraeus scandal, focus on real issues

This post originally appeared in The Tennessean on November 18th, 2012

It is heartbreaking for me as a military professional to see the spectacle swirling around Gen. David Petraeus as his years of honorable service dissolve into long, drawn-out, tawdry depictions of his extramarital affair in the national media. Our fixation on this event has diverted the focus we need for other efforts. Enough is enough; we need to leave voyeurism behind, move on to real issues, and solve the critical problems facing America.

Petraeus is no stranger to Tennessee. Former senator Dr. Bill Frist operated on Petraeus when he was shot in the chest during a live-fire training exercise at Fort Campbell. On a later tour, he led the Clarksville-based 101st Airborne in combat during the invasion of Iraq and then rapidly rose to the highest levels of command and responsibility. Petraeus’ record of service to the country puts him in the same category as our most famous military figures.

Yet his fall has been rapid and total. Resigning in shame, he now sees his image tarnished and his marriage shaken, if not broken. His lifelong devotion to duty will now be overshadowed by this affair. Now it is time to leave him and his family alone as they try to put their lives back together, while the rest of us redirect all the energy being expended reveling in every detail of this sad episode to overcoming challenges that really matter.

This means putting the long, divisive election campaign behind us and focusing first on returning to effective government at all levels. That requires finding common ground between the two parties. Those who still advocate extreme views and call for intransigence do our nation a disservice. The height of folly is embodied by those who continue to use incendiary language in describing people whose views differ from their own. And for some voices to even call for “secession” conjures up an image that reflects our country’s darkest days and should be roundly and immediately repudiated. With the election over and the players set, this is job No. 1.

The next challenge is avoiding the proverbial fiscal cliff. Rather than dealing with the deficit up front, Congress and the administration made a terrible mistake passing the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011. The BCA-created “Super Committee” failed to find the mandated $1.2 trillion to cut over the next 10 years, and Congress continued the failure by not acting on a deficit reduction plan. Without legislation that makes hard choices, our country became dependent on short-term “continuing resolutions” to fund the government. As a result, billions of dollars are being wasted, critical programs disrupted, lives put in turmoil and the continued well-being of our citizens compromised. America must be put on the road to a solid financial base to ensure our economic and national security.

With those two most pressing challenges addressed, we can then move on to other priorities, including continuing our recovery from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression; developing a plan for repairing our country’s rapidly declining infrastructure; creating a national energy strategy that leverages all sources including oil, gas, renewable and nuclear; reversing the decline of our education system by placing the emphasis on students; putting in place a sensible immigration policy; keeping the promises to our seniors; and ensuring we provide for our national defense in this still unsafe world.

This is more than just a laundry list of “nice-to-haves.” These are serious challenges for our nation to consider, discuss, argue over, compromise on and resolve. So, enough! Let’s get over it with Petraeus’ fall from grace and get on with the real business of our nation.

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