My Paula Broadwell Schadenfreude

I am a wicked person. I have been totally fascinated, like so many others, by the sex- and e-mail-scandal surrounding CIA Director and acclaimed retired four-star General David Petraeus and his mistress and biographer Paula Broadwell. I pick through the latest developments, however minute, about this expanding saga and its cast of characters, which now includes General John R. Allen, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, a Tampa socialite who resembles a Kardashian, a shirtless FBI agent and so much more.

The latest development? The once publicity-seeking Paula Broadwell — slender, brunette, brainy — was apparently hiding out at her brother’s Washington home and seen sipping wine while preparing dinner. 

I am wicked because I frankly find this all entertaining and a distraction from what I guess are the miseries and challenges of my own small, insignificant suburban life. I look at the 40-year-old Paula Broadwell’s fit and sculpted arms — on display in her famous January 2012 Daily Show interview — and think, yeah, I shouldn’t have eaten those Trader Joe’s caramels last night.

And I consider her high-achieving life — valedictorian of her high school class, homecoming queen, a fitness champion at West Point, ironman triathlete, graduate degree from Harvard, and best-selling author. And, I can’t help but feel some gratification that it’s all falling down around her.

I think, oh, fate is punishing her for her hubris. And, then I can bask for a few seconds in feeling superior and thinking I’m kind of wonderful after all, even though I’m not 

I hear of people inside and outside the military who are delighting in Petraeus’ downfall. Maybe because he was too good to be true, the brilliantly disciplined scholar-soldier who was one of the most celebrated military commanders in recent times. A possible contender for president! Maybe people were also bothered by his reputation as a showboat, a publicity hound who was said by some to take credit for ideas that were others. I have a friend who is gratified to see yet another conservative hero who has shown his true colors as a hypocrite, a morally deficient man.

Congress and political pundits are shaking their fists at the national security implications of Broadwell’s close association with Petraeus, or of Allen’s “friendship” with the socially ambitious Jill Kelley of Tampa. But I think the rest of us are on some level enjoying the scandal, the drama, the personalities. And, we’re getting some satisfaction by watching the fall from grace of people we assumed were living much more interesting, accomplished and glamorous lives than the rest of us.

Schadenfreude is one of the main drivers of this story. Schadenfreude, by the way,  is the German word describing the pleasure we derive from the misfortunes of others.

But alas, my Schadenfreude is not drawing energy from this other piece of news: Sales of Broadwell’s gushing biography of Petraeus, All In: The Education of General David Petraeus, co-written with Vernon Loeb, is doing very, very well, according to the Atlantic Wire: “As Virginia Brown and Dan MacLeod write in the New York Post, ‘Broadwell’s biography of Petraeus, All In, is currently ranked No. 102 in sales on — before the scandal broke, it was ranked a mere 76,792.” (It’s the 3rd best-selling history book, and the 12th best-selling biography.)'”

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