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The Human Drama of Saving Lives

The Daily Caller links to a video of a speech in which Elton John praises former President George W. Bush and “conservative American politicians” for pledging billions of dollars to “save the lives of Africans with HIV.”

“We’ve seen George W. Bush and conservative American politicians pledge tens of billions to save the lives of Africans with HIV. Think of all the love. Think of where we’d be without it, nowhere, that’s where. We’d be nowhere at all,” John said at the International AIDS conference in Washington on Monday. “Thanks to all this compassion, thanks to all this love, more than 8 million people are in treatment. Thanks to people who have chosen to care and to act, we can see an end to this epidemic on the horizon.”

Elton John is onto something, as this story in the Washington Post makes clear. It reports that leaders in AIDS vaccine research say they may finally be on the cusp of a period of major discovery leading to a vaccine. “The past few years have been a turning point,” said Gary Nabel, director of the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “I’m more optimistic than I’ve probably ever been in my career.”

As for President Bush, in 2003 he announced the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the largest program in history to fight a single disease. The plan included $15 billion over five years to promote prevention, treatment, and compassionate care, mainly in Africa. Many at the time were skeptical that large-scale AIDS treatment was even possible in the developing world. But a study at the University of British Columbia found that PEPFAR saved 1.2 million lives in just its first three years.

It has never been clear to me why this achievement is celebrated more by those on the left (like Elton John and Bono) than on the right. Perhaps it’s because of the nature of the disease and its early association in this country with the gay community. Perhaps it’s because such enormous good was achieved through the instrument of the federal government, which conservatives are instinctively wary of. Or perhaps it’s because the disease has historically afflicted people who have, in different ways and to varying degrees, been marginalized and are not part of the conservative coalition: gays, African villagers, IV drug users, and minorities in America.

To be clear: conservatives haven’t denigrated the global AIDS initiative; it’s simply that it has never really registered with them. It hasn’t touched their moral imagination.

We are all drawn to different things and animated by different causes. But I would have thought that an effort that has so clearly served the cause of human dignity – that has saved so many lives and prevented so much suffering – would be one that people of every political persuasion, including conservatives (particularly social conservatives and those active in the pro-life movement), would be held up far more often than it is. The global AIDS initiative has been an extraordinary human achievement that fits our national character.

I understand that discussing AIDS policy may not make for riveting political theater. But there is also a great human drama in emancipating millions of people from the bondage of fear and the grip of death; and there is great drama, too, in the story of a moral leader who was able to bend history in the direction of justice.

Leave it to Elton John to point that out.


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