Satan’s probably lying out in the snow right now, giggling like a schoolgirl. It hurts so bad to say it but, well, here it goes: Thanks President Bush.
Lots of people are pretty mad about Bush’s State of the Union Address, so mad that they held peaceful demonstrations and mocked the commander in chief’s pronunciation of the word “nuclear.” And while what Bush said amounted to pretty much what we already knew, his take on the AIDS epidemic in Africa was worth a pat on the back.
Bush announced a plan, which his advisers claim has been in the works since June, to spend $15 billion over the next six years to fight AIDS in Africa. It’s a lot of money that can do a lot of good in a place where hospitals are understaffed, overcrowded and lacking even in generic drugs to fight the disease. Senator, surgeon and now Senate majority leader, Bill Frist previously tried to pass a bill allotting $2.5 billion a year for foreign aid, but it died in the House.
Now Frist is ready to push the bill through again.
A lot of critics see this as Bush following through on a new, very academic-sounding geopolitical reality, where America both smashes the bad guys and comes to the rescue of the downtrodden. But my cynical inner child wonders if this is an attempt to make Bush look a little more compassionate in the face of a showdown in the Middle East.
Bush’s domestic AIDS policy is a little sketchy as well; he hasn’t talked much about it in the past year and continues to focus on prevention through abstinence. It’s a reminder of his desire to appease the hot air bags in the religious right; abstinence until marriage makes it kind of hard if you can’t get married in this country. Try to think your way out of that endless logic loop.
Bush appointed Scott Evertz as director of the Office of National AIDS Policy in 2001 but then reassigned him late in 2002 because of Evertz’s support for condom use. Evertz and Dr. Joseph O’Neill, his replacement, are both gay, which makes you wonder how many tokens Bush wants to spend on winning the support of queers in this country.
His nominations for the Presidential Advisory Commission on AIDS and HIV have drawn a lot of fire from the scientific community as well. Even though Christian activist and nut job Jerry Thacker declined his nomination to the 35-member commission, a few other nominees have come under close scrutiny. Critics feel that personal politics have influenced the Bush administration for several picks and rejections based on religious background, ties to industry and political beliefs concerning birth control.
It’s possible that a commission member can be both an ardent conservative and unbiased. Surgeon-General C. Everett Coop, a loud and proud Christian man, maintained a steady level of impartiality during the birth of AIDS in this country; but he’s a rare bird.
HIV and AIDS are on the rise in this country after a few years of riding steady. The infection rate in San Francisco doubled last year, from around 500 cases up to just over 1,000. The cost of drug cocktails has dropped big time, from $12,000 to under $300. But combine a new generation who didn’t live through the original HIV panic with the general sense that AIDS isn’t necessarily a death sentence any more and people will start getting stupid again.
Rolling Stone just recently published an article about a group of imbeciles who find contracting HIV a huge turn-on and actively seek out the bug. The author of the article has got himself in trouble after supposedly manufacturing a quote from Dr. Bob Cabaj about the percentage of young gay men out for HIV, but the existence of such a group, no matter how small, shows we’ve fallen into a dangerous complacency.
We’ve just started a new year, and Bush has already shown some compassion toward the AIDS problem. Hopefully he’ll turn some of the attention back home so we can fix the problem going on in our own nation.
Steven Ruszczycky is the Daily Nexus opinion editor.