WASHINGTON -- Some of the personnel stumbles of the Obama administration -- including the aborted nomination of Bill Richardson as commerce secretary -- resulted from incompetent vetting. William Lynn's reception as deputy secretary of defense has been complicated by hypocrisy -- the administration's attempt to gain political credit for a restrictive lobbying ban it swiftly violated to get a qualified appointee.
But one major personnel error was made from malice. And it calls into question the depth and duration of President Obama's "new politics."
During Obama's transition, Dr. Mark Dybul was initially asked to stay on as the coordinator of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) for several months until a replacement could be found and confirmed. Because Dybul was the main architect of the program and one of its guiding visionaries, few were surprised by the offer. Along with Ambassador Randall Tobias, Dybul organized the most staggeringly successful foreign assistance effort since the Marshall Plan -- eventually helping support lifesaving AIDS therapy for more than 2 million people.
While I worked at the White House, I saw Dybul combine the ability to build bipartisan consensus for PEPFAR on Capitol Hill with exceptional compassion for the victims of a cruel and wasting sickness. It mattered little to the Bush administration that Dybul was openly gay or had given contributions to Democrats in the past. He was recognized as a great humanitarian physician -- a man of faith and conscience -- almost universally respected among legislators, AIDS activists, foreign leaders and health experts. Almost.
A few radical "reproductive rights" groups -- the fringe of a fringe -- accused Dybul of advocating "abstinence only" programs in AIDS prevention. It was always a lie. Dybul consistently supported comprehensive prevention efforts that include abstinence, faithfulness and condom use -- the approach that African governments themselves developed. In fact, Dybul was sometimes attacked from the right for defending a broad definition of AIDS prevention, including programs to address prostitution and transgenerational sex. Over the years, PEPFAR distributed 2.2 billion condoms -- hardly an "abstinence only" approach.
By encouraging Dybul to stay until his successor was in place, the Obama administration displayed a generous spirit, as well as a practical concern for continuity in a vital program.