What if a president, on his own initiative, under no demands from staff or from supporters or opponents, set out to spend an unprecedented amount of money on AIDS in Africa, literally billions of dollars, at a time when the nation could not afford it, citing his faith as a primary motivation and, ultimately, saved more than a million lives?
Wouldn’t the story be front-page news, especially in top, liberal newspapers? Wouldn’t it lead on CNN, MSNBC, and the “CBS Evening News?” Might statues be erected to the man in the nation’s more “progressive” cities?
What if the president was George W. Bush?
I pose these uncomfortable questions for two reasons: 1) President Bush did precisely that regarding the African AIDS tragedy; and 2) a study claims that Bush’s remarkable action has indeed saved many precious lives.
And as someone who has closely followed Bush’s humanitarian gesture from the outset, I’m not surprised that the former president continues to not receive the accolades he deserves—including even from conservative supporters—for this generous act.
Bush himself realizes the lack of gratitude and media attention. I personally witnessed it recently, on June 17, when I was in attendance for one of Bush’s first post-presidential speeches, in Erie, Pa. There, too, he mentioned the AIDS initiative—even adding that one of his daughters is in Africa today, working on the epidemic—and, there again, it received no press coverage whatsoever.
It all began in January 2003, during the State of the Union. In a completely unexpected announcement, Bush asked Congress for $15 billion for AIDS in Africa—drugs, treatment and prevention.
America soon learned this was not the typical State of the Union throwaway line: To show his seriousness, Bush followed on April 29 with a press conference in the East Room, where he exhorted Congress to “act quickly” on his “emergency plan.”
Accompanied by the secretary of state, he prodded America’s wealthy allies to join this “urgent work,” this “great effort.” He explained that AIDS was a “dignity of life” issue and “tragedy” that was the “responsibility of every nation.” This was a “moral imperative,” with time “not on our side.”
Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College, executive director of The Center for Vision & Values, and author of the book, “The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis, The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor.” His other books include "The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism" and "Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century."