I just got back from a meeting with former Majority Leaders Frist and Daschle, as well as Dem strategist John Podesta and Republican strategist Michael Gerson. The meeting featured about 10 bloggers, inlcuding Soren Dayton and Matthew Yglesias, just to name two.
(I'll also be talking about this on Captain Ed's radio show, at 3:30 ET).
The reason for the meeting is that today, the ONE Campaign's 2.4 million members are launching, "an unprecedented, non-partisan campaign to make global health and extreme poverty priorities in the 2008 presidential election."
So what's ONE all about? According to ONE:
The next president will take office in a time of great hope: there are effective and affordable solutions that save lives. AIDS drugs can now cost as little as $1 a day. A $5 bed net can keep a child from dying from a mosquito bite. With the force of more than 2 million members from all 50 states and a coalition of more than 100 non-profit, religious and charitable groups, ONE Vote '08 will educate and mobilize voters to ensure that the next American president is committed to using "smart" power to end global poverty and keep America strong.
Here's their latest video:
... Now, to talk about the meeting.
I'm paraphrasing, but following is the first question I asked them:
Me: "I'm guessing you hope to get all the presidential candidates to sign off on this? My question has to do with timing. President Bush's approval ratings are extremely low now, and many conservatives in the base are now very skeptical of anything that looks like touchy-feely, compassionate conservative, big government spending. And besides, you mentioned earlier that Americans are the most charitable in the world ... My question is: This may be a great cause, but why use our tax dollars for this?"
... Of course, I didn't really get an answer to that question. What I got was that this is not only the right moral thing to do -- but that it is in our strategic best interest to stamp out poverty and disease around the world. The argument is that poverty and disease lead to terrorism and other negative issues, and that this is really a security strategy.
(Note: In terms of selling this issue to Republican candidates and voters, frankly, I can't imagine their timing could be any worse. It appears to me that conservatives have tried the "compassionate conservatism" thing, and many of them came away with a bitter taste in their mouth).
Gerson noted that their is a real danger that the Iraq war (which is taking attention away from issues like this), would cause America to move in a more isolationist direction, which he views as a major mistake.
Gerson also added that he believes we are seeing a paradigm shift, in which religious conservatives will move away from some issues (I'm guessing he means issues like family values, etc.), and focus more on issues like poverty, etc. Sen. Daschle added that he believed the paradigm shift is based on a realization that there is a direct connection between global poverty and disease and our security interests.
Sen. Frist went on to add: "You don't go to war with someone who just saved your children," meaning, I think, that America can buy PR and good will.
My response was, "How can we guarantee we get credit. I mean, are we going to put little American flags on the bottles of water?" (This question was generally dismissed ...)
In short, I applaud these folks for wanting to do good. They are right when they say that the percentage of our budget which goes to solving these global problems is a very small percentage (the amount is large, but as a percentage of our budget, it is small).
Whether or not that money should come from the taxpayers of a compassionate society -- or from private individuals -- is the question I believe many conservatives will debate.
A couple of side notes ...
Both Daschle and Frist were very pleasant. The strategists seemed a bit more subdued, but that my be because they didn't want to steal attention from the former Majority Leaders. I had a chance to talk to Daschle about South Dakota, which was nice.
Lastly, it is good that One Vote '08 gave bloggers an opportunity to hear these arguments for themselves. Clearly, they realize the importance of tapping into the new media ...