Beyond hypocrisy, blindness to facts

May 04, 2007|By Ellen Goodman | Ellen Goodman,Boston Globe

BOSTON -- I don't need to give the "D.C. Madam" story a whole lot more attention.

I try to heed the words of the mother-of-us-all when judging the private lives of public people. Susan B. Anthony once said, "If a man's public record be a clear one, if he has kept his pledges before the world, I do not inquire what his private life may have been."

But I do think even she would give me a dispensation on the subject of Randall L. Tobias.

The deputy secretary of state resigned last week after admitting he was a client of the service described on the Web as "a high-end adult fantasy firm which offered legal sexual and erotic services." The 65-year-old married man did not admit to having sex with those women, but said he had the $300-a-visit "gals come over to the condo to give me a massage." It was, he said, like calling for pizza.

Well, Mr. Tobias was not just your everyday CEO-turned-bureaucrat. This is one time that "private life" and "public record" are as tightly wedded as a pizza and its toppings. As the first global AIDS czar, Mr. Tobias oversaw American public policy for foreign private lives. He was in charge of doling out sexual morality with the money.

First, a caveat. The President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief is one of the good things that has come from this administration. Some $15 billion has been targeted for treatment and HIV prevention in the epidemic's hot spots. But it's been hampered by the same moral-first, faith-based tenets that are woven through our domestic policy.

Any country that wants money from George W. Bush's America has to follow the ABCs of our policy prescription: A for abstinence, B for be faithful, and C for condoms only if you belong to a high-risk group that flunks A and B. So far, a full third of the prevention money, more than $100 million, has been spent for abstinence programs.

Mr. Tobias was often praised as a good manager. If he was not an ideologue, he sure played one on TV and in congressional hearings. When he was finally caught on the wrong list, it wasn't the ABCs that made him resign. It was the H - for hypocrisy.

I realize that the right wing fumes about sexual immorality while the left saves its highest dudgeon for hypocrites. But there's something worse than hypocrisy - surely worse than finding another bureaucrat who can't practice what he promoted. It's an administration willfully rolling out programs that don't work. It's policymaking that's evidence-proof.

Just two weeks before Mr. Tobias' sorry exit, there was a definitive report on abstinence-only education in this country. The $1.5 billion that has been thrown into teaching abstinence-until-marriage has made no difference in delaying the onset of sex.

The believers continue to insist that abstinence is the only 100 percent sure way to prevent pregnancy and disease. But 95 percent of Americans reportedly have sex before marriage. In real life, that's a 95 percent failure rate.

As for our AIDS programs, both the Government Accountability Office and the Institute of Medicine report that the abstinence-only earmarks on AIDS prevention funding are undermining success. Why are we exporting our failures to become theirs?

For the past six years, the Bush believers have been drawing ideological blueprints in Washington, whether for Iraq or for the homeland, in foreign policy or domestic. When this money doesn't pave the way to success, their solution is to widen the road into a highway. When that doesn't get us any closer to the destination, they widen it into a superhighway and call it a surge.

In his book, At the Center of the Storm, former enabler and belated reformer George J. Tenet writes, "Policymakers are entitled to their own opinions - but not to their own set of facts." If that's true for the policies in Iraq, it's true everywhere.

Mr. Tobias was hoisted on his own pizza. The price he'll pay for his "gals" is humiliation. But the biggest flaw in the world of this president and his enablers is not hiding their eyes from human frailty. It's refusing to face facts.

Ellen Goodman is a columnist for The Boston Globe. Her column appears Fridays in The Sun. Her e-mail is

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