I think I misled my daughter. If you've ever read this space before, you likely guessed that the policies of President George W. Bush are not well thought of in our household. We're not supportive of him handing out huge tax cuts to the wealthy while saddling our children with the largest deficit in U.S. history.
Wasting billions of dollars and innocent lives because he was too arrogant to get international support for his Iraq adventure? Not popular in the Quigley house, either.
So it was a little surprising when, as we were driving to her kickball game the other day, 9-year-old Katie brought the president up in a positive way. "You know what?" she said. "I think President Bush is probably a good person. He just isn't right about some of his decisions."
I was taken aback for a second. What a mature and appropriate way to look at public discourse. I agreed with Katie, and congratulated her on separating the personal from the political.
But maybe I was wrong.
Because even a fourth-grader knows that a good person doesn't back out on a promise, especially when the promise was to help people in desperate need.
In January, President Bush stood up in his State of the Union address and promised to spend $15 billion over five years to fight AIDS and other infectious diseases. In May, Bush signed the noble-sounding U.S. Leadership Against Global AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Act of 2003, which authorized — but did not allocate — the first $3 billion installment on that promise. "Our nation sets forth on a great mission of rescue," the president said.
In July, Bush accepted applause and gratitude during his tour of Africa, home to 30 million people living with HIV and where 6,000 die from AIDS each day.But now it is September, and Bush has changed his tune. He is telling Congress to cut next year's AIDS spending back by a billion dollars, claiming that anything more than that can't be spent next year.
That claim is hogwash.
UNAIDS says that existing infrastructure alone could support spending over $8 billion in AIDS programs. The Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria has stacks of good program requests but no money to fund them. History's worst pandemic rages on, and the president can't figure out a way to invest in stopping it?
No, this reversal smells more like an excuse to ease the financial burden of ill-advised tax cuts and foreign policy mis-steps.
"Bush took a victory lap around Africa about funding for AIDS programs, and now he is backing off of that promise," says Nick Arena, the Indianapolis-based grass-roots manager for RESULTS, a global anti-poverty organization.
Last week, the Senate missed a chance to hold Bush to his word. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Illinois) offered an amendment to the Labor, Health and Human Services appropriations bill that would have returned the $1 billion to the AIDS fight. But the Durbin amendment was voted down. Sen. Bayh supported it and Sen. Lugar, the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, opposed it.
Bayh deserves credit for his position, but Lugar's vote was a real disappointment. This is a life-or-death issue: The funding Bush is retreating on for 2004 could prevent 1.6 million HIV transmissions and treat 400,000 already infected people who otherwise will die. "Someone with the prestige of Senator Lugar, who has brought hard questioning and statesmanship to the situation in Iraq, should do the same with AIDS funding," Arena says.
Andy Fisher, press secretary for Lugar, says the senator's vote was a reflection of the Bush Administration's position that it could only spend $2 billion during 2004. "An additional billion dollars just would not have been used, so including it would not have made any sense," Fisher says.
The fight isn't over yet. Advocates like Arena hope the additional AIDS money can be added to the foreign aid appropriations bill or, fittingly, the $87 billion supplemental appropriations bill for Iraq. "It is going to be tough with the Bush Administration and the Republican leadership pretty much not honoring their promises," Arena says. "They took a lot of credit for this, and they are about to shortchange it."
Sorry, Katie, but I think I agreed with you too quickly this time. Remember the heart-breaking photographs Daddy brought back from Kenya? The good people we know wouldn't look at those dying faces and tell them to wait until next year.
A humble and kind leader leaves us
Andy Jacobs says it here more eloquently than I could ever hope to, but I echo the sentiment that all Hoosiers are going to miss Gov. Frank O'Bannon.
Even in many conversations with people who disagreed with some of the hard decisions he had to make as governor, I never — ever — heard anyone question Frank O'Bannon's generous spirit and basic human decency. May the O'Bannon legacy of humility and kindness inspire our current and future leaders, and may his family and friends find comfort during these sad days.