November 22, 2010
"When it comes to HIV/AIDS, do you prefer Bush or Obama?"
This is the title of an article that was published last week. It's a ridiculous question - and an example of a "polling" question that does little to get to the root causes of issues or help to deepen our understanding of the complexity of the issues. It is also a question that creates further divisiveness and blame at a time when we need less, not more, of this.
In the article, the writer cites the often-praised efforts of President Bush in establishing the President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). As I've said before, just using the word "Emergency" for a pandemic that was already in its 3rd decade and pretty-well understood is indicative of the disconnect. Social conservatives - mostly Bush supporters at the time - were instrumental in the stigmatization of HIV during those first two decades. Even after Sen. Jesse Helms and Rep. Henry Hyde "shocked the world" by talking about the need to fund HIV/AIDS programs, they were clear that the intent was to do so in far-away places where people impacted by HIV/AIDS could be painted as innocent victims, but within our borders HIV spread among the wicked. Just look at their stances on needle-exchange programs and on policies that perpetuated oppression of people most impacted by HIV in our country. Bush was no different until the very end of his administration when he supported needle-exchange funding in Washington, DC - a city he largely ignored while being praised for PEPFAR.
The writer also mentions, almost as an aside, that there were flaws to Bush's approach - specifically with regards to his insistence on abstinence funding. This is not an aside: this is fundamental to the why Bush's approach was unsustainable and, were he to still be in charge, would be faced with the same challenges as Obama. Obama is calling for a new strategy, and everyone from the World Health Organization to major funders such as Bill Gates are having to face the reality that the approach of the past decade - while providing temporary relief to those in need - has not provided long-term solutions.
What we need to be doing instead is trying to appreciate what Bush did, and appreciate what Obama is up against and wupport what he is trying to change. We are all in this together, but activists and AIDS leaders are doing little to help promote this.