Hypocrisy, sure, but bad policy too

By ELLEN GOODMAN Washington Post Writers Group
Published May 4, 2007

BOSTON - I try to heed the words of Susan B. Anthony when judging the private lives of public people. She 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 think even Susan B. would give me a dispensation on the subject of Randall Tobias.

The deputy secretary of state resigned last Friday after admitting he was a client of the "D.C. Madam, " whose business was 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, Tobias was not just your everyday CEO-turned-bureaucrat. As the first global AIDS czar, 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. But the plan has been hampered by the same faith-based tenets woven through our domestic policy.

Any country that wants money has to follow our ABCs: 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. A full third of the prevention money has been spent for abstinence-until-marriage programs.

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 D.C. madam Deborah Jeane Palfrey's list, it wasn't the ABCs that made him resign. It was the H for hypocrisy.

But there's something worse than hypocrisy. It's an administration willfully rolling out programs that don't work. It's policymaking that's evidence-proof.

Just two weeks before 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. That's no difference, as in zero.

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 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.

The price Tobias will 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's e-mail address is ellengoodman@globe.com.

2007, Washington Post Writers Group