Susan North
Strange bedfellows
By Susan North
December 3, 2012

Much has been made of David Petraeus' affair with his biographer Paula Broadwell. Much too has been made of Petraeus' wife and how Holly Petraeus has "let herself go." The articles concerning her have often been shallow and/or cruel, and they usually shift the blame to her rather than placing it where it belongs, on him and his behavior.

However, little has been made of the strange political bedfellows of both David and Holly Petraeus. It is widely assumed that anyone in the military is right of center, maybe even far right. However, in the case of the Mr. and Mrs. Petraeus, this does not seem to be true, in fact they seem to have some pretty curious political bedfellows on the left as this article will demonstrate.

One must wonder about any patriotic military man who would, upon his retirement, accept a position with the Obama administration. David Petraeus, who is hardly an inexperienced youth, could not possibly expect to uphold the Constitution with a boss like Barack Obama. Petraeus is clearly not a man of the right — and if he claims to be one, well then, he is just a member of the growing herd of RINOS in Washington.

The General's wife, Holly Petraeus, has an even more curious way of expressing her patriotism. While on the surface the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and her role as the "Assistant Director, Servicemen Affairs" (does this exclude women? Why the title?) sounds patriotic, there are a couple of problems which are, as the expression goes, "troubling." For those unfamiliar with this recently created bureau, it was set up by founding director, Elizabeth Warren (aka Fauxcahontos, aka Princess Heap Big Lies, aka the Massachusetts Senator-elect who has been practicing law in that state without taking the state bar exam). Just reading about Elizabeth Warren gives me a strong desire to take a shower — there is something so greasy, or slimy if you prefer, about this woman that it naturally brings to mind the questions: what sort of person associates with Elizabeth Warren in any way, shape or form?

Yet, Holly Petraeus has taken a position at the Obama/Warren Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Like her husband, one must wonder at anyone with military connections who chooses to work in cooperation with the Obama administration, as Obama and his administration are notoriously anti-military.

Don't be deceived by visions of this matronly woman serving to protect servicemen from bad financial decisions. While the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau may be doing some of that, Mrs. Petraeus' real job seems to be infantilizing our servicemen and demonizing the private sector.

What happened to caveat emptor (let the buyer beware)? I have a much higher opinion of our servicemen than she does. Does she really think that men and women who serve in the U.S. military are so naive that they will just sign on the dotted line with some husker from a disreputable for-profit school? (This is the subject of 2001 New York Times article she wrote which implies that all for-profit schools are disreputable). Do servicemen (and women) really need to have the government hold their hands when making financial decisions?

Isn't this agency just more evidence of the balkanization of our government? Mrs. Petraeus' title is "Assistant Director, Servicemen Affairs" while one of her colleagues is "Assistant Director, Older Americans" (incidentally this title is held by Hubert Humphrey III, a long-time traditional progressive politician who supports the New Deal political philosophy and is a member of the board of directors of the National AARP). Where are the Assistant Directors for Blacks, Asians, Indians, Gays, and Women? The military here seem to be a cover, much as "the children" often are covers for other left-wing issues.

It is Mrs. Petraeus' activity demonizing the private sector which really concerns me however, and in her 2011 New York Times article, Holly Petraeus makes it clear that her goal is to denigrate a section of the private sector which is of interest to many servicemen, the for-profit college. Many, but not all, of these colleges are technical/vocational colleges. The article is at:

One of the horrors she reports is that some of these colleges have web sites with military-sounding names. Yes, well, what would you expect? Any college intent on attracting those with G.I. Bill benefits is going to have a military-sounding name. They are not going to call themselves "The Pierre of Paris School," are they? Everyone over the age of puberty understands that titles and names may or may not be accurate, and are intended to imply something. So what is the problem? The purpose of a title or a name is to attract attention — that's it.

I taught at a reputable for-profit college which was shrewd and demanding. The students got a good education — if they were willing to work for it. I had the freedom to get a couple of students canned for cheating on a test, just as they would be fired in a job for a serious violation of policy. I had this freedom because the school recognized that maintaining standards was a good long-term policy. Getting a degree from this college actually meant something, and they were doing a better job of training students in their fields than the public universities (much to the chagrin of some universities with high status and low levels of actual training or education). This is how the free-market works.

Unfortunately, the college I taught at also knew that they could accept anyone who applied because these individuals could get financial aid, at least for a time, from the government and this benefited the school. The main problem as I saw it was the government had gotten involved. The result was a percentage of students who were sub-par. But like most of the faculty, if a student was willing to put in the effort I was willing to help them. Even the less than talented could find some sort of employment in the field, if not at the same level of their more diligent or gifted classmates, provided they applied themselves. Those who didn't apply themselves would have been better off to have learned on the job and saved themselves time and money, and taxpayer money as well.

The "admissions office" of this college was huge because they had to enroll lots of students to bring in the money. The college could have been smaller, and had a better reputation if we could have been more selective of the students, but the government was involved. To a large extent, students chose the college because it offered a quality education, had a good placement record, and was offering something not available in the government educational establishment.

Holly Petreaus also attacks the academic credentials or lack of accreditation of some of these colleges — the frank reality is that a lack of academic credentials or accreditation isn't necessarily a bad thing, it could even be meaningless. A new college and/or department might have to prove itself before getting credentials or accreditation. And in some vocational fields, credentials or accreditation matter little — what counts is what is learned, and if the students can find work in the field.

Fields as different as computers and fashion design generally require individuals with some aptitude for the subject, and academic sophistication is not what counts. The purpose is to provide the student with whatever training is required to prepare him or her for the work force, and faculty need only have expertise and a bit of teaching ability. Faculty degrees often don't matter in such cases, in fact they might not matter at all. Students who drop out before finishing often do so because they have found a job in the field and see no point in continuing to borrow money to pay to learn something which they may never need, or which can be learned on the job. These are very often independent thinkers, which of course the left despises.

Our society places a great deal of emphasis, too much in fact, on degrees and status, yet Holly Petreaus falls right into this trap. She complains about something that really isn't usually a problem, ignoring the reality that it doesn't always matter. True, there are some disreputable for-profit colleges, but there are also a great many degreed faculty in accredited non-profit colleges and universities who bully students because of the students' political philosophy or religious beliefs, even in courses on inherently neutral subjects such as chemistry or mathematics where the subject should be entirely objective.

Maybe there is something to be learned here. Mrs. Petraeus has no formal training in finance, policy-making, decision-making, or logic (her degree is in French and English). So what are her qualifications to tell us what is best? None that I can determine, yet as a leftist, she is certain that she is right, so she uses a broad brush to paint as disreputable for-profit institutions.

We need to look closely at what people believe, the outcome of these beliefs, and who they are. We cannot be too sure exactly what Mrs. Petraeus believes, but we do know who she associates with, and that should tell us a lot. One of her colleagues is Hubert Humphrey III, and the bureau was essentially established by Elizabeth Warren so it seems Mrs. Petraeus resembles her husband more than most would believe. Both of the Petraeuses are increasingly looking like unprincipled opportunists, not principled patriots.

© Susan North


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Susan North

Susan North, Ph.D., is an historian whose main interests are the U.S. Constitution, the application of the 10th Amendment, Florida, textiles, and turtles.

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