Sexual Hypocrisy—When the Personal is Political

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Randall Tobias abruptly resigned as head of the Bush administration’s foreign aid programs Friday after he was implicated in an investigation of high-priced call-girls.

Ho-hum, another married Republican outed as—gasp—participating in non-marital, non-monogamous sex.

The moral failure of yet another Bush appointee would hardly be worth mentioning, except that Tobias directed the Agency for International Development (USAID) and America’s global AIDS relief programs. In those capacities, he was personally responsible for implementing a condom-is-the-last-resort policy for AIDS prevention. He implemented America’s shameful international blackmail scheme–you want family planning money, you have to vigorously oppose prostitution, while promoting abstinence & monogamy.

Two years ago, Brazil (with the developing world’s most successful anti-HIV program) rejected $40 million of that money. Last year DKT International (which sold 400 million discounted condoms to sex workers in 11 countries) sued USAID for withholding an HIV prevention grant for Vietnam after DKT refused to sign the anti-prostitution pledge.

So Tobias has been responsible for a lot of bad international policy, policy that attempted to narrow the developing world’s sexual expression as an ostensible way of combatting HIV and unwanted pregnancy. And now he’s been caught doing exactly what he’s been trying to prevent hundreds of millions of non-Americans from doing.

It’s easy to have contempt for this hypocritical man, this man who thought he knew better than the adults whose lives he tried to control, this man who demanded a moral purity he did not choose for himself.

But it’s also appropriate to have compassion for the guy. Like so many social and political conservatives (many, of course, devout Christians), his vision of human sexuality is so distorted, it hardly leaves room for real people. When you believe that sex is inherently bad unless redeemed within extremely narrow, arbitrary limits, sexual feelings, desires, and communication are dangerous.

While it’s not unreasonable to expect that adults will tell the truth and keep their promises, people who decide that their core is evil have a much, much harder time doing so. They live in fear–fear of discovering that they’re worse than they should be, and fear that as a result they will lose what and who they value.

Tobias implemented global policies that tried to limit the bad sexuality he saw out in the world (and, obviously, in himself). Instead of accepting the diversity of the human family’s sexuality–including his own–he worked hard to get people to conform to his shame-
based, guilt-ridden vision. Most people didn’t. He certainly didn’t. That’s why real sex education is so crucial–to combat the guilt, fear, and ignorance that drive people to repress others’ sexuality.

Tobias’ failure isn’t going to massage parlors, or even lying to his wife. It’s violating the inhumane rules he forced on others–poor, uneducated, desperate others. Tobias is a poster boy for the tormented version of Christian charity that has been soiling our country for 6 years.

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