ABC’s Jake Tapper put the White House on the spot last week, asking Jay Carney about rumors that Vogue editor and big Barack Obama donor/bundler Anna Wintour might end up with a plum ambassadorship to either the UK or France. Wintour earned the nickname “Nuclear Wintour” for her interpersonal skills and inspired the villain in the novel and film The Devil Wears Prada. Tapper asked Carney whether a diplomat should be, y’know, diplomatic, eliciting laughter from the press room.
Tapper’s back in this video today, taking a lighthearted approach but asking a serious question about the assignment of key diplomatic positions and their relation to hard cash:
But this isn’t about Wintour in particular; this is about money. Wintour’s fundraising for President Obama’s reelection campaign is really the only reason we’re having this discussion. She has raised millions of dollars for the president’s reelection.
“We urge the political parties to move away from the practice of financial campaign contributions, and sale, essentially, of ambassadorships,” says Susan Johnson, president of the American Foreign Service Association. Johnson has been in the foreign service for 32 years.
President Obama ranks somewhere in the middle when it comes to rewarding non-career diplomats with these posts. Jimmy Carter did it the least, and Ronald Reagan did it the most. Obama has give more than 30 percent of his ambassadorships to political appointees — more than did President George W. Bush.
“Thirty-plus percent of all the ambassadorships is too much to be going to non-career people,” says Johnson. “And if you look at the 30 percent, that’s worldwide. If you just look at Europe or what were the G7 or G8, it’s 85 percent over four decades going to non-career people.”
Yes, and many of these wealthy people didn’t earn their money by following in the footsteps of Norman Vincent Peale or Pollyanna, either. As Tapper points out, this is a problem that transcends party divisions and ideologies, too. But even considering someone of Wintour’s rather notorious reputation for two of the most prestigious and important diplomatic assignments seems a little beyond the vogue.