Steve Sachs Duke


Saturday, May 17, 2003


A good deed. The Senate has now passed President Bush's AIDS proposal, which will authorize $15 billion over five years to fight AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean. Supporters claim that the bill will prevent 7 million new infections, provide antiretrovirals for 2 million people, and care for 10 million AIDS patients. The response from anti-AIDS groups: the Global Aids Alliance, according to the NYT, has called the bill "a cruel joke."

What a horrible thing to say. I agree with many of the bill's critics, among them the Washington Post; the one-third of the prevention money earmarked for abstinence may end up wasted, and Congress needs to follow through on its obligation to fully fund the program it has approved. But the fact is, several billion dollars are now going to fight AIDS that were never there before; we're that much closer to stopping this epidemic than we were before the State of the Union, and significantly closer than we were under the last administration. In the end, the bill turned out significantly better than some people's expectations; the religious right was originally trying to block all funding incompatible with the Mexico City anti-abortion policy, and Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) deserves a fair amount of credit for preserving it.

Not surprisingly, AIDS groups have a certain amount of self-righteousness; after all, they're trying to save the lives of millions, and generally don't get much help from those in power. But there's a real danger when a movement loses sight of the political value of compromise. One must never compromise on moral principles; but often one can--and, in fact, must--compromise on political principles to achieve the moral result. Politics is not about finding and implementing the perfect policy, but about deciding, in Michael Walzer's words, "what ought to be done when what ought to be done is not going to be done."

Can we be mad at the religious right for weighing down the proposal with inane requirements, and for reducing its effectiveness at saving lives? Of course; and that gives us even more reason to vote them out. But should we condemn the bill, and discount the lives of the millions whom it may help, because it doesn't match our expectations? Never.

UPDATE: Nicholas Kristof notes a modest way for individuals to save lives and make a difference in Africa: by donating to doctors who treat women injured in childbirth.




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