New D.C. Sex Scandal Should Not Be About Sex

Is it a Heidi Fleiss re-run or yet another, albeit less intense, Lewinsky scandal? Blogs across the Web and media frenzies are welcoming the opportunity to comically criticize the current lame-duck administration that has already been tainted by so much else. The newest scandal centers on the Deputy Secretary of State, Randall Tobias’ resignation April 28 after admitting to an ABC news reporter that he had been a client of newly dubbed ‘D.C. Madam,’ Jeane Palfrey.
Tobias said to reporter Brian Ross that he ‘had some gals come over to the condo for a massage’ and that it was ‘like ordering pizza.’ However, Tobias continues to deny that any sexual activity occurred. The next morning, he announced his resignation, citing personal reasons.
White House spokesman Tony Snow said that President George W. Bush was ‘saddened’ by Tobias’ resignation, ‘but it was the appropriate thing to do.’ It was a quick turnaround from recent public praise that had been awarded to Tobias from both Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Tobias was appointed as Secretary Rice’s point man only this year as director of U.S. foreign assistance and U.S. Agency for International Development. Prior to that, he served the Bush administration as the U.S. global AIDS coordinator. It was a job that seeped into his recent work with Rice in attempting to overhaul the United States’ management of foreign aid and work to curb the AIDS epidemic in Africa.
Minutes after Tobias’ resignation was announced, his biography was removed from the Agency for International Development’s Web site.
The media frenzy that has surrounded the D.C. Madam continues to heighten as she recently turned down a plea bargain and ensured an upcoming trial. She has also allegedly named military strategist Harlan K. Ullman, who responded by saying that the accusation was ‘beneath the dignity of comment.’ Various sources say that a number of names and phone numbers were found that include a series of lobbyists, CEOs, and Bush administration employees.
In the meantime, many people seem to be feeding their insatiable thirst for tabloid gossip and focusing on scandal rather than policy. It might be better to concern ourselves with the soundness of his policies and their execution in the Bush administration so that we can enter a conversation of intelligent political debate versus an impulsive jump to dig into the personal life of a man who must go home and face his family long after the media has moved on to the next scandal.
Admittedly, it was ‘appropriate’ and necessary for Tobias to resign after he acknowledged being on Palfrey’s client list. However, the core of the argument isn’t what happened in that hotel room. To put it in the words of Spearhead and Michael Franti: It is important to forget about ‘who politicians are screwing privately and know who they are screwing publicly.’
Under the administration’s HIV and AIDS prevention and relief program, groups getting U.S. money to fight AIDS were supposed to explicitly oppose prostitution and sex trafficking. Was this project succeeding, and what are the percentage patterns of AIDS in Africa and their correlation to the Bush administration’s foreign aid policy?
Jodi Jacobson, the executive director for the Center for Health and Gender Equity, has said the Bush administration’s policy has led to the closure of numerous programs that had been teaching job skills to sex workers, forcing many women back out onto the street.
Tobias should be prepared to deal with the consequences of his actions. However, there is a distinction between plain disparagement and thoughtful censure ending in optimistic solutions. Let’s keep whatever dignity is left in this country and serve as informed citizens, not leave the legacy of the nation’s politicians marred as sexual transgressors without being able to discuss his or her impact on public policy first.

Sarah Ghulamhussain is a first-year criminology and political science double-major. She can be reached at