April 9, 2008
There’s a remarkable article in the current Time magazine by Bob Geldof, musician and activist, regarding a recent trip he made to Africa with President George W. Bush. Geldof, a liberal, disagrees with Bush on many things, especially Iraq. Geldof is also fair. He has observed what Bush has done in Africa, particularly on AIDS, and is enormously grateful for the president’s truly unprecedented actions. To cite just one example: in 2003, only 50,000 Africans were on HIV antiretroviral drugs; today, thanks to American relief, 1.3 million receive free medicine.
In an illuminating article, there are, however, two items Geldof left uncovered:
First, which Geldof acknowledges but doesn’t look to explain, is how Bush gets no credit for this remarkable gesture from liberals, who pride themselves on their compassion and sensitivity to race, to Africa, to the poor, to the downtrodden, to AIDS victims, to debt-ridden Third World nations, to genocide, to famine relief, and on and on. If a Democratic president had done what Bush has done for Africa, the New York Times would recommend a 100-foot bronze statue on the Mall. Instead, there is utter silence concerning this stunning, expensive act of human charity—one certainly beyond what American presidents would ever be expected to do. Liberal college professors and Hollywood types would be walking around with special little ribbons on their lapels representing the president’s Africa initiative.
Second, this example of human charity by Bush is actually a case of Christian charity, directly linked to his faith, and has been from the outset Here’s how it developed:
In a shocker in his January 2003 State of the Union, Bush asked Congress for $15 billion for AIDS in Africa—not a small sum, especially during a time of recession and record budget deficits and with war approaching in Iraq on the heels of Afghanistan. It meant billions in taxpayer dollars for drugs, treatment, and prevention.
Bush followed by launching a sustained commitment. A few months later, on April 29, he issued a major statement in the East Room, in which he assembled the press, the secretary of state, and others, and urged Congress to “act quickly” on his “emergency plan.” He tried to enlist the world in this “great effort,” calling the AIDS “tragedy” the “responsibility of every nation.” He said it was a “dignity of life” issue This “urgent work,” he said, was a “moral imperative” on which “time is not on our side.” “[T]his cause is rooted in the simplest of moral duties,” he lectured the press assembled. “When we see this kind of preventable suffering … we must act. When we see the wounded traveler on the road to Jericho, we will not, America will not, pass to the other side of the road.”
Just four weeks later, on May 27, he signed his $15 billion plan into law. Few things have happened so quickly in American politics—not even Marshall Plan aid occurred so fast.
When he signed the bill Bush challenged Europe to match the U.S. commitment without delay. The following week, at the Group of Eight summit for the world’s wealthiest nations, held in France, he pleaded for help in this “moral” obligation. In late June 2003, he continued the cause in a speech at the Washington Hilton. In July, he made a major trip to Africa, where he again spoke out on AIDS.
George W. Bush, devout Christian, in the role of Good Samaritan, was doing what no leader of any country had ever done for Africa.
I wrote on this in an op-ed for the San Francisco Chronicle in September 2004. The opinion editor of the Chronicle was, like Bob Geldof, a fair liberal; he happily ran the piece, thinking it would enlighten his readership, especially the faith component—a bracing revelation to an angry left that insists Bush’s “born-again faith” makes him a narrow-minded troglodyte.
What was the response? I received hateful emails telling me that not only was Bush—and myself as well—a “moron,” but the entire Africa AIDS thing was a ruse, a sham, and the money wasn’t even being spent. Bush was a “liar,” and so was I. One emailer acted like a child with his hands over his ears screaming, “Liar, liar, pants on fire!” Facts made no difference whatsoever.
Likewise, there is denial or disinterest by liberals who dominate America culture and shape perception: Hollywood, academia, media. The left so detests this president that it will not give him credit for anything. He is a new kind of Frankenstein’s monster: half Torquemada and half Boris Karloff.
Bob Geldof asked Bush “why doesn’t America know about this?” Bush answered: “I tried to tell them. But the press weren’t much interested.” That’s exactly right—no exaggeration.
I’m not surprised by the lack of credit Bush has received on this from the right. Conservatives don’t like how this president spends money like a drunken sailor, and his actions toward Africa is viewed another such manifestation—a raft of do-gooder poppycock that isn’t the job of the federal government.
The big story is why the left isn’t thrilled, and then, beyond that, the deeper silence that refuses to acknowledge the link between this work of Bush benevolence and his Christian faith. For George W. Bush, this is simply a reward he will need to receive much later—much like the Good Samaritan.
Paul Kengor is executive director of the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. He is the author of God and George W. Bush: A Spiritual Life (2004), and, most recently, The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan's Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007).