So USAID director Randall Tobias resigned suddenly yesterday.
For readers who don't follow American news or politics, Tobias was a pretty important figure. Not only was he director of USAID, but he was "Director of Foreign Assistance" -- a post created especially for him. He was supposed to be in charge of all US foreign aid, which is a huge portfolio... USAID is just the single biggest piece.
Tobias resigned after being linked to a DC-area prostitution ring. He first claimed that he used the $300/hour call girls for massages only -- no sex! He added, strangely enough, that he was using mostly Central American girls. Then, a day later, he just resigned.
The local USAID community was abuzz with the news today. It would be fair to say that a consensus opinion has emerged.
I don't think I've ever seen such a unanimous combination of schadenfreude, mockery and bitterness.
A couple of things. One, USAID people tend Democrat, by about 2-1. Not too surprising if you think about what they do. So, there is that.
(I should note here that I'm not a USAID employee. But I spend a lot of time around people who are.)
Two, there's the hypocrisy aspect. Tobias took overtly conservative positions, including pushing abstinence education and opposing outreach to sex workers to fight AIDS. To add an additional wrinkle, it's not like he was a real social conservative. He was a corporate executive type, a former CEO of Eli Lilly. It was generally believed that he was just carrying out administration policy without having strong feelings about it one way or the other. Some people think this makes him a bigger hypocrite than if he'd been a devout conservative.
Three, it makes everyone look a little bad. Even if you're ompletely laissez-faire about what people do in their own time, USAID is supposed to be presenting America's best face to the world. USAID also spends a lot of time end effort fighting human trafficking, which is a huge problem in a lot of different places. And USAID is trying to reach out to the world's poorest, the people who live on $2 a day or less. So, having the head of USAID spending his spare time boinking Guatemalan girls at $300 per hour just looks so incredibly bad. You can be completely libertarian on the sex-for-hire issue and still see that.
But there's still a bit more than that. What's come out in the last day or so is that people really hated Tobias. Even after you discount the piling-on factor -- which is significant; it's human nature to deliver a kick or two to the toppled statue -- even after that, it's clear that a lot of AID folks really disliked Tobias, as a leader and as a person.
Not sure I want to go into more detail than that. But it's been interesting to see how fast and unanimous the consensus has been.
(If you have a few minutes, and find this sort of thing interesting, here's an article from the Boston Globe about some recent political wrangles over USAID. Written about six months ago, but makes interesting reading in light of recent events.)