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Have Americans become Puritans?

Published on -11/21/2012, 8:10 AM

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With Thanksgiving almost here, it is time to talk about Puritans -- but not the crew who fled England for the New World and established the Massachusetts Bay Colony back in the 17th century. No, let's talk about the modern Puritans -- we, the American people.

The United States is considered a puritanical society by many Western nations. For example, they can't believe we hassle public servants like Gen. David Petraeus because he had a mistress. In France, if a powerful man doesn't have a mistress, he's considered a wimp. In Italy, they elected Silvio Berlusconi, who allegedly puts together old-fashioned Roman-type orgies and brags about it.

You might remember the outcry in Western Europe over the impeachment of President Clinton. They couldn't believe it over there. Lying about sex? In some countries, that's the national pastime.

So the question is this: Are we Americans basically puritanical? Throwbacks to the days when Cotton Mather was hunting witches in Salem?

The answer, surprisingly, is yes to some degree. While it's true that secular forces are whittling away traditional standards of behavior, we Americans still expect some decorum from our elected officials.

If you're a rock or film star or play professional sports, we expect you to cat around and do self-destructive things. But if we count on you to protect us, like Petraeus did, we want your full attention. Part of the outcry over Clinton's behavior was that it took place in the Oval Office, right beneath portraits of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

Turning the most powerful room in the world into a Motel 6 is not acceptable to most Americans.

The truth is that many powerful guys have fooled around while working for the people: Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Warren Harding to name just a few. Grover Cleveland even fathered a child outside of marriage. We all know these things happen. But we don't want them to happen, or at least most of us don't. I can't speak for San Francisco.

That may be because American tradition is based on Judeo-Christian philosophy, and that tradition has served us well. Honesty and loyalty are still esteemed values in most parts of this country. When the defenders of Bill Clinton wailed that it was "just about sex," they were wrong. In cases where powerful people get caught in compromising situations, there is always more to it than a physical act.

I am deeply saddened that Petraeus is no longer protecting this nation. He is a patriot and a brilliant warrior in the cause of freedom. Frankly, I don't care what the general does on his personal time. It is a damn shame he had to resign.

We are all sinners, but here's what comes along with that: You always pay for the sin. Unfortunately, all of us would suffer along with the general, and that is why he had to go. If the folks trust you, don't burn them.

Bill O'Reilly is host of the Fox News show "The O'Reilly Factor" and author of the book "Pinheads and Patriots: Where You Stand in the Age of Obama."

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