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Round Two on Bush and AIDS

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Last week I wrote about former President George W. Bush’s unprecedented work on behalf of the African AIDS epidemic. That $15 billion package, first proposed in January 2003, was entirely Bush’s doing, and has been ignored by the mainstream media and liberals who should hail the initiative. Similarly, it has been dismissed by many conservatives who did not like the massive spending at a time of record deficits.

I focused on the latest ignored news on the Bush initiative: the remarkable conclusion that it has saved over one million African lives. According to an April 2009 study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine, the Bush plan is “changing the course of the AIDS epidemic.”

Although the response to the article was overwhelmingly positive, there were some negatives. Here, I’d like to consider those responses, positive and negative; they are instructive:

First, the response from the left remains sadly predictable. There continues to be a refusal to give George W. Bush due credit for this extraordinary act. This was evident in a brief reply by an editor at an Iowa newspaper, who responded to my 1,159-word article with 11 words: “And he [Bush] killed thousands of American lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Granted, within that statement was a tiny inadvertent acknowledgment that Bush had saved African lives. That’s an improvement from past emails I’ve received from liberals who refused to concede the program existed. (In fact, the dominant response from liberal newspaper editors was to ignore the article—to not print it.)

Second, I got predictable criticisms from a few conservatives, particularly those who lean libertarian in their economics. One was mean, and I won’t bother recounting what he wrote. Another, however, offered a good point worth noting: “Actually, the credit should go to the American taxpayer,” he wrote, “whose effort and ingenuity afforded Bush and Congress the $15 billion they used for AIDS programs in Africa. Your [article] title should be ‘American Taxpayers Saved a Million African Lives.’”

Point taken. Of course, taxpayers did not come up with the idea and push it and adopt it and make it a reality. That was entirely George W. Bush. In fact, if Bush’s proposal had been placed on referendum, I suspect taxpayers might have handily rejected it. Certainly no group of taxpayers has generously stepped forward with a cool $15 billion for African AIDS relief.

Nonetheless, yes, American taxpayers foot the bill. They are viewed by politicians as an eternal cash-cow always there for the milking, but rarely to be thanked. Without their effort and ingenuity that produces the revenue, the government cannot spend a dime.

Not only is this a worthy matter to bear in mind when it comes to Bush’s AIDS package, but especially as President Obama and Congress tap infinitely larger sums of taxpayer dollars. They do so when the projected deficit for this year—a breathtaking $2 trillion—makes Bush’s deficit in 2003 ($377 billion) look negligible. They also do so as they bash the very producers that provide the revenue for their insatiable redistribution.

Finally, my article prompted some illuminating responses from Grove City College alumni who work this issue.

One is Kelly Dillon, who, under President Bush, was top aid to Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick and special advisor to the G8. “Right on!” wrote Kelly. “I had the privilege to push this initiative and work with our allies in the G8 to try to get them to match it in 2007/2008.” That push was an additional thrust of the Bush plan. As Kelly noted, “To a certain extent the prodding worked, but without a doubt the credit for PEPFAR lies with President Bush alone.” (“PEPFAR” is the acronym for the AIDS initiative.)

Another alumnus is Christopher Doyle, a behavioral research analyst for the Institute for Youth Development. Chris has published excellent work on abstinence programs under PEPFAR, and this week is presenting a major paper at the National HIV Prevention Conference in Atlanta.

Chris and his organization have documented remarkable success in AIDS reduction through abstinence and “be faithful” behavioral-change programs. Uganda, for instance, has experienced a drop in HIV prevalence from over 20 percent in the 1990s to about 6 percent in 2008.

Unfortunately, with the election of an extremely liberal president and Congress, the abstinence mandate that received priority under President Bush has been lifted in favor of “prevention” methods like condoms—the go-to source for liberals in these things, whether dealing with teen pregnancy in American public schools or AIDS in Africa. Tellingly, that funding has been axed despite an enormous escalation in PEPFAR spending, from $15 billion from 2003-8 to $48 billion authorized for 2009-14.

The Atlanta conference is symptomatic of such thinking, as only one in 150 sessions addresses abstinence. Once again, condoms are being heralded as “primary prevention.” Self-expression rules; self-control is dismissed.

In sum, there are many issues within this debate, from prevention methods to huge spending allocations. On the latter, conservatives are right to ask how much?

Either way, the African AIDS crisis has been truly devastating. Kudos to George Bush for genuinely saving lives, even as the Nobel Committee and liberals everywhere continue to refuse him the accolades he deserves.

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