In his piece about the Academy Awards, the New Yorker’s David Denby wrote this:
I can’t give up my feeling that people are approving of their own tears when they respond to “Les Misérables.” After all, Michael Gerson, George Bush’s principal speechwriter, wrote an entire column in the Washington Post about how much he cried at “Les Mis.” But how much did the Bush Administration do for the downtrodden? I can’t think of a better definition of sentimentality—an emotion disconnected from what one actually is and does—than effusions like Gerson’s.
This is a sneering ignorance. Even a liberal film critic should be familiar with President Bush’s 2003 announcement of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the largest program in history to fight a single disease. The plan included a massive increase in funding–$15 billion over five years–to promote prevention, treatment, and compassionate care, mainly in Africa. Many were skeptical that large-scale AIDS treatment was even possible in the developing world. But studies show that PEPFAR is estimated to have saved 1.2 million lives between 2003-2007. The most recent data show that the number of AIDS-related deaths in sub-Saharan Africa has fallen by about a third.
“The substantial life expectancy afforded by widespread access to cART [combination antiretroviral therapy] underscores the fact that HIV diagnosis and treatment in resource-limited settings should no longer be considered a death sentence,” according to Dr. Edward Mills, who helped oversee a large-scale analysis of life expectancy outcomes in Africa for HIV patients. “Instead, HIV-infected people should plan and prepare for a long and fulfilling life.”
“PEPFAR is changing the course of the AIDS epidemic,” according to Dr. Peter Piot, former executive director of the Joint United Nations Programm on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).
The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief was among George W. Bush’s finest hours–and for the record, Michael Gerson was one of the main advocates for PEPFAR in the Bush White House.
It takes a particularly confused and cynical individual to dismiss as “sentimentality” one of the most humane and effective enterprises in our lifetime. PEPFAR is certainly a more unambiguous success, and has saved many more lives, than the War on Poverty.
I can’t think of a better example of moral idiocy–of words disconnected from what reality actually is and what people have done–than columns like Denby’s.
He should stick to movie reviews.