Scandalized but unscrutinized


Last Friday, after a hacker broke into the email account of former President George W. Bush’s sister Dorothy, correspondence belonging to the Bush family went viral — most notably, images of President Bush’s paintings of himself, disrobed and in the shower.

One painting shows the president’s apparently muscular back as he gazes in a mirror in the shower; another displays his outstretched legs in a bathtub. They are almost as unskillful as they are awkward. I doubt I would be any better at painting a nude of myself, but then again, that’s why I don’t try. I would be even more reluctant to produce such a painting — not to mention unleash the beast onto the Internet — if someone accused me of being “the leader of the free world.”

Millions, including myself, delighted in mocking yet another of Bush’s clumsy gaffes — not because we particularly care about how he performs at his hobbies, but because it is kind of fun to catch powerful people in embarrassing moments.

When she was informed of the leaked emails, Dorothy Bush could only respond, “Why would someone do this?”

That’s a good question, and one that many Americans asked of the Bush administration after President Bush admitted that the National Security Agency had been engaging in unconstitutional, warrantless wiretaps. For years, federal agents monitored the telephone calls, emails and text messages of American citizens without any legal justification. None of those citizens could demand a Secret Service investigation, because the Bush administration’s suspension of basic civil liberties rendered every American a suspect, not a victim.

The Bush family’s hacked images and emails were popular on Facebook and Twitter for a few days. But an event that could have been used to reinvigorate a discussion of invasive security measures devolved into a fodder for short-lived entertainment.

America enjoys the fall of its icons. Even if we hide behind the guise of disappointment and moral superiority, we love to watch scandals unfold. The vast majority of the population has had no vested interest in Lance Armstrong’s career, but 28 million of us watched Oprah’s most recent interview, captivated by stories of syringes dumped in Coke cans.

I am not particularly interested in shaming anyone for rubbernecking. However, an obsession with scandal can become a problem when it takes precedence over enforcing high expectations for our leaders.

Last November, then-CIA Director David Petraeus announced that he was resigning because he had engaged in an extramarital affair. Colleagues and government officials, including President Barack Obama, emphasized that they were shocked and saddened by the news. For a week, newspapers ran profiles of his former mistress Paula Broadwell and revealed details about the “steamy romance.”

The media scandal died down, and the most reprehensible consequences of Petraeus’ departure are receiving far less national attention. Last Thursday, John Brennan’s confirmation hearing for the CIA director position commenced. Brennan, a UT graduate and the current Homeland Security Advisor, is one of the driving forces behind the Obama administration’s increasingly aggressive drone program, which has killed hundreds of innocent civilians abroad, including children. Petraeus’ consensual relationship with an adult is a career-ending scandal, but replacing him with a leader in favor of high-tech mass killings is business as usual.

Also last week, Obama released a memo detailing the total authority the White House has over American lives. The previously classified document provides a justification for targeted drone strikes against individuals, including Americans, suspected of terrorist activity.

The memo serves as the justification for the drone strike against American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, who was suspected of working with al-Qaida. It may also have been the document that gave the government authority to kill al-Awlaki’s son, Abdulrahman, a 16-year-old American citizen with no concrete ties to any terrorist organization. The minor was killed in a drone strike at a café in Yemen two weeks after his father’s death.

If Abdulrahman al-Awlaki’s case and the recent memo are any indication of the Obama administration’s stance toward security, American citizens can be executed without warning or trial simply by knowing — or being born to — the wrong people.

Nonetheless, The Daily Texan didn’t even publish a news article regarding the groundbreaking announcement. The paper has published five articles on UT assistant football coach Major Applewhite’s “inappropriate relationships” and three on the Lance Armstrong scandal since the beginning of 2013.

I enjoy news about embarrassing celebrity moments as much as the next person, because we could all use a reminder that the idols we glorify are fallible. But we should use that reminder to stop putting leaders on pedestals and instead hold them accountable.

The most atrocious scandals are not uncovered through email exchanges or leaked photos: They are codified into our laws and upheld by our institutions. There is a distinction between being a voyeur and being an engaged citizen. Egalitarian democracies rely on recognizing the difference.

San Luis is a Plan II, English and women’s and gender studies senior from Buda.