THE BLOG
11/30/2012 10:11 am ET Updated Jan 29, 2013

The Right to Bare Arms

Even four-star generals seldom make the front page unless they've been killed in action or involved in an extra-marital affair, as witnessed the sudden fall of David Petraeus. In his case, his lover was a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves with an unusually high security clearance.

There's a whiff of disapproval in the coverage of Paula Broadwell's sleevelessness, as if it was inappropriate if not downright wanton. But I'm sure that somewhere in our Constitution is a clause that protects the right of people to bare arms, although the National Rifle Association has yet to make a comment on this issue.

The general's stepping down from his post in the CIA was hardly a surprise to the American audience but the Europeans find it puzzling and, in fact, amusing. Why dispense with a valuable public official over private misdeeds?

You may recall that Europe nodded approval when Congress failed to indict Bill Clinton. The misfortunes of Eliot Spitzer and Senator John Ensign were non-events to the Europeans. Though back here, it ultimately cost them their jobs. Could such events happen in La Belle France? Mais non!

Even the notorious Strauss-Kahn case only caused him to lose his chance at higher office because it included the very nasty word "rape." Even in France, rape is a non-non.

L'affaire Broadwell was just too juicy to ignore and the visuals were really just too good! The obvious reason is sex. Broadwell had been photographed in her army reserve uniform but even more frequently in a variety of fetching outfits. Most of them were totally sleeveless and the press quickly identified her "toned" arms as something worth writing about. It was much more interesting than the fiscal cliff and avoided the hard work of doing research. Said arms soon became a staple in every story about General Petraeus and his presumed lover.

Cole Porter had written some 50 years ago that "in olden days a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking." And for a long time, female legs seemed to be an endless source of entertainment and interest, at least to the male audience in America. Betty Grable, a movie actress few people remember, was usually written about and photographed in close conjunction with her "gams." But there was no sign that they had been particularly toned.

What, then, has so many of our journalists hypnotized by the Broadwell arms? At a guess, the very thought or picture of a muscular female who is handy with weapons seemed to give some of our couch potato reporters what the French call a "frisson." That is, a little thrill.

There's no sign that American feminists (do we still have those?) have gotten irate about this kind of treatment of Broadwell. They're probably used to it, because just a moment's thought makes one recall the initial coverage of Sarah Palin in the '08 election. My guess is that they're going to dismiss it as one more example of male craziness.

It's interesting that Monica Lewinsky and Rielle Hunter managed their moments of notoriety without anything particularly sleeveless. But their arms and legs were just limbs. My guess is the keyword in the whole Broadwell-Petraeus affair will turn out to be "toned." No one knows what the significance of this is but I suspect it's something that will eventually make American men feel embarrassed. If questioned about it, I suggest they respond with a Gallic shrug and move on to the next piece of truly important news.

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