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An AIDS Victory Up Close

Author: Michael J. Gerson, Roger Hertog Senior Fellow
July 30, 2008
Washington Post


It is my intention to celebrate a legislative and moral victory—the reauthorization and expansion of America’s massive effort to fight global AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria—with an apology.

Two months ago, I made a rather vivid attack on a group of U.S. senators I called “the Coburn Seven,” who were blocking consideration of this measure. I was convinced that Tom Coburn—known in the Senate as “Dr. No” for objecting to nearly all spending increases—intended to kill the bill.

Then I made the worst mistake of the commentator: actually meeting the object of your scorn. I found, as usual, that disdain is easier from a distance. Though we remained at odds on some issues, Coburn politely assured me that his motivation was not stinginess. His main goal was to increase the number of people receiving treatment.

So let the record show: After a compromise that accommodated his concerns, Coburn not only supported the bill but urged other conservatives to do the same.

The bipartisan expansion of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)— along with the President’s Malaria Initiative—is significant in a number of ways.

First, it is the congressional affirmation of a major legacy of George W. Bush—a grand, aggressive international compassion that dwarfs the Peace Corps and is unequaled since the Marshall Plan. Despite charges of simplistic militarism, the Bush Doctrine actually includes three elements: the preemption of emerging threats, the encouragement of responsible self-government, and the promotion of development and health as alternatives to despair and bitterness.

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