What other government official is having a Petraeus-style affair?

By far the most bizarre turn in the story of General David Petreus’ affair with Paula Broadwell: Late Friday evening Slate noticed that Blake Hounshell, managing editor of Foreign Policy magazine, tweeted a link from July of Chuck Klosterman’s advice column for the New York Times Magazine, The Ethicisit. In the column a man had written to Chuck confessing that his wife was having an affair with the top government official he respected, whose work was critical to American leadership on a global level.

He wrote in anonymously, and it sounds a lot like he’s describing the Petraeus affair, which kicked off speculation that Scott Broadwwell, Paula’s cuckolded husband, was the one who’d written in. From the letter:

My wife is having an affair with a government executive. His role is to manage a project whose progress is seen worldwide as a demonstration of American leadership. (This might seem hyperbolic, but it is not an exaggeration.) I have met with him on several occasions, and he has been gracious. (I doubt if he is aware of my knowledge.) I have watched the affair intensify over the last year, and I have also benefited from his generosity. He is engaged in work that I am passionate about and is absolutely the right person for the job. I strongly feel that exposing the affair will create a major distraction that would adversely impact the success of an important effort. My issue: Should I acknowledge this affair and finally force closure? Should I suffer in silence for the next year or two for a project I feel must succeed?

Responding to the explosion of Twitter speculation the Times was able to do some fact-checking and was able to confirm that the mystery man is actually not Scott Broadwell. “This @theethicist column (2nd Q) is NOT about the Petraeus affair, based on our factchecking. Strange, I know,” the Times Magazine editor Hugo Lindgren tweeted.

Which begs the question: What other top-level government official is having a Petraeus-style affair? There are only so many individuals who are really critical to American leadership, and even fewer critical to projects that will tip one way or the other in the “next year or two” starting last July. Here are a few guesses based on absolutely nothing but my own speculation:

Barack Obama

What other government official is having a Petraeus-style affair?

The man’s letter refers to a “government executive.” As top of the executive branch, Obama is really the number-one government executive in the country. He’s also well-respected and well liked, and a man progressives feel is so important to have at the helm that he’s one of the only government men you can picture anyone falling on his sword for. Klosterman writes “The fact that you’re willing to accept your wife’s infidelity for some greater political good is beyond honorable,” and continues it’s so far beyond honorable as to be suspicious. Which is true. But given how much progressives feared a Romney presidency, you can kind of picture this mystery man wanting to not rock the boat. On the other side, Barack seems like a squeaky clean character, and he and Michelle seem genuinely in love. He doesn’t strike me as a likely candidate for this.

Mitt Romney

What other government official is having a Petraeus-style affair?

On the flip side, if the mystery man was a staunch conservative he might be equally motivated to preserve the good reputation of Romney. Also his vague description of a “government executive” rather than an “elected official” could apply to Romney. He’s a famous executive and he’s been a government man but not currently in office. Plus Mormonism can be polygamy-friendly. But not Mitt’s branch apparently, and the man does seem to take his religion seriously.

Ben Bernanke

What other government official is having a Petraeus-style affair?

Bernanke’s title as Fed Chairman is also a murky “government executive” position. He’s appointed by the President, not elected. And Bernanke’s aggressive monetary policies are a big part of the reason America’s economy is in the strongest position of many any country in the world right now. It’s no stretch to say the whole world is looking to Bernanke to help lead us the rest of the way out of the economic mess over the next couple years. Also his term expires in 2014—a term he’d serve out regardless of who won the election—and he’s said he doesn’t intend to serve another term. So the mystery man wanting to protect Bernanke’s rep for the “next year or two” fits nicely. Also the mystery man says the cheater “manages a project,” which would be a natural way to describe Bernanke’s Quantitative Easing project largely responsible for jump-starting growth, which now in its third phase which was announced in September and speculated about since at least July. You’re suspect, Bernanke.

Tim Geithner

What other government official is having a Petraeus-style affair?

Same logic as Ben Bernanke, but a little less convincing: As Treasurer Geithner played a big role in getting the economy back on track but he’s not watched in the same way Bernanke is. Also he’s just said that he’ll be leaving his post for Obama’s second term, so his continued protection from scandal isn’t that important. But mystery man probably didn’t know this in July.

General Martin Dempsey

What other government official is having a Petraeus-style affair?

Also appointed by the president instead of elected, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is the highest ranking officer in the U.S. armed forces. He serves a two-year term, started October 2011 and goes to Oct 2013, when he can be re-appointed to a second term. Overseeing the drawdown of forces in Iraq and Afghanistan could definitely be the “project” of international leadership mystery man was referring to.

Will we ever know who the cheater is? Probably not. Maybe all of them. As Slate writes, “What ‘government executive’ is not having an affair with some guy’s wife?” Let’s hope whoever the mystery man is he followed Chuck’s advice, which was spot on. Read original column here.