Hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue.
Franois Duc de La Rochefoucauld, "Reflections"
The clever man creates problems he knows he can solve and impresses people by solving them. George W. Bush is a clever man. He proved it on Jan. 28.
Jan. 28 was the night that all the networks broadcast the applause that is called the State of the Union speech. The applause was occasionally interrupted by Mr. Bush's words. During one of the intervals, Mr. Bush managed to get in a few words. He announced that he intended to help solve a problem he had done much to exacerbate if not to create. He said that he intended to do something about the AIDS epidemic in Africa. This was the leader of the same administration that participated in a regional conference on population issues in Bangkok, Thailand, on Dec. 18, 2002.
At that meeting, the American delegation was pitted against Asian countries over, among other things, sex education and methods of birth control. The American delegation tried to win support from other nations at the conference to change language in the 1994 Cairo agreement that called for controlling population growth by improving health care and education, fighting poverty and AIDS and expanding legal rights for women. The Bush administration wanted language inserted into the international agreement that would promote "natural" family-planning methods, including abstinence. The administration objected to promoting condom use among adolescents to prevent AIDS on the theory that it encourages underage sex. Many of the things to which it was opposed were things that, if implemented would, among other things, help curtail the spread of AIDS.
Talking nonsense at the Bangkok meeting was not the administration's only foray into the world of never-never-condom land. On Oct. 9, it was reported that in 1990 the United States gave third-world countries 800 million condoms and in 2000 it gave away only 360 million. In 2001 the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria was formed. The fund received requests from poor countries totaling about $8 billion. It received $2.1 billion. Mr. Bush met the request by pledging $500 million over a two-year period.
On July 22, the administration ended support for the U.N. Population Fund, citing activities in China where the administration claimed birth control is coercive even though a State Department fact-finding mission in May found no evidence of that. Thirty-four million dollars in aid was withdrawn, leading to cancellation of programs in Africa to, among other things, fight AIDS and help pregnant women. More than 180 countries received no aid from the U.S. for actions of the International Planned Parenthood Federation's work because those countries provide access to abortion even though U.S. money is not used for those services. Thus, the words sprinkled among the applause during the State of the Union applause fest were surprising at a minimum. In the few minutes he presumed to interrupt the applause, Mr. Bush announced that AIDS was a real problem for the developing world.
Following the president's speech we were told by his spokespersons that AIDS has always been one of his great concerns. According to Anthony S. Fauci, a government scientist who often meets with the president, whenever he visits Mr. Bush, the president has the same question: "He says, 'Tony, how's the AIDS program going?'" Dr. Fauci says he and others have been working on the initiative announced by the president since June at Mr. Bush's explicit direction. His aides say he has always been committed to the global AIDS causes. Bill Frist, the new Republican leader of the Senate, said he has been pressing Mr. Bush to do more about AIDS since the first time he rode on Air Force One. At the end of his first airplane ride with the president, referring to Mr. Bush's attitude toward AIDS, Dr. Frist said eloquently: "This president gets it."
In June, Mr. Bush announced a $500 million a year program for medicines that would prevent expectant mothers in Africa and the Caribbean from passing the AIDS virus on to their babies. According to Dr. Fauci; "We all knew that it couldn't stop there. The president had a vision and he wanted to do something that went well beyond mother-to-child transmission."
Sure enough, on Jan. 28, Mr. Bush said that AIDS was a terrible problem. He announced the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, a five-year, $15 billion initiative to turn the tide in the global effort to combat the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The United States will work with private groups and willing governments to put in place a comprehensive system for diagnosing, preventing and treating AIDS. Of the $15 billion, $10 billion is new money. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to which Mr. Bush pledged $500 million for 2001 and 2002 will now receive $1 billion over the next five years. A total of $10 billion in new money will be spent on AIDS drugs, education, doctors and specialized laboratories in 14 countries ravaged by AIDS. It will be spread over five years. According to Dr. Fauci, condom distribution will be part of the new program.
Mr. Bush was clever. All those things he was doing that made it look like he was actually opposing programs that might stop AIDS were nothing more than feints in order to give his State of the Union speech more wallop. It worked. Of course it made him look somewhat hypocritical. That did reality no disservice.
Christopher Brauchli is a Boulder lawyer and and writes a weekly column for the Knight Ridder news service. He can be reached at email@example.com
Copyright 2002, The Daily Camera