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How Much Slack Should Activists Give Obama? Thoughts on Bill Clinton's Speech at AIDS 2010

July 20, 2010

Day two of the International AIDS Conference of 2010 began with a bang: an address at the opening plenary by former President Bill Clinton. As expected, it was standing room only. Prior to today, I had only gotten a glimpse of the sheer number of delegates present. However, it was at the Clinton address that I began to see just how many people are here. It is truly amazing -- so many people of different hues, nationalities, and roles: physicians, researchers, representatives from government and non government entities, and, of course, people living with the virus.

As you can imagine, the address from former President Clinton was thoughtful and moving. I was first struck by his knowledge of the issue (of HIV/AIDS). His address covered many areas. For example, he spoke of the work of his foundation in countries as varied as the Ukraine to Zambia. He also spoke about the progress being made especially in reducing mother to child transmission and in increasing the number of people living with HIV who receive life-sustaining medication. He challenged us to spend our limited HIV funds more smartly before we demanded more. He even acknowledged that, as President of the United States for 8 years, how he did not do enough about HIV/AIDS.

However, being the politician that he is, his most controversial statements covered the direction that he believes we should take for activism. While acknowledging the rights of activists to protest whatever and whoever they choose, he also reminded those who have recently protested President Obama for his failure to fund PEPFAR at the level that he 'promised,' that his (Obama's) commitment came long before the almost complete economic collapse of our country. I acknowledge that my respect for Bill Clinton had dwindled as a result of his tactics in campaigning for his wife Hillary against Obama. Therefore, I was even more pleased to hear his common sense defense of President Obama.

Former President Clinton expressed that activism would be better served by putting more pressure on Congress to cooperate (yes, I used the words 'Congress' and 'cooperate' in the same sentence) with the Obama administration and to appropriate more funding.

This raises a very controversial topic: Just how much 'slack' should Obama receive. As the first Black president, Obama, unfortunately, was given an extremely rotten hand to play: two long, expensive wars; financial instability; and a totally uncooperative Republican party, to name a few. Should we wait for some of the smoke to clear before we go on the attack? Does his successful push for more health care in the United States count for anything? At the heart of the matter is, do we really trust him? Can we trust any politician?

I believe that it is a delicate balancing act between maintaining consistent, but flexible pressure on all of the powers that be, including Obama, but at the same time 'turning up the heat,' as it were, on those who have historically opposed universal health care. Personally, I am grateful for the contributions thus far and in anticipation of those to come from these two great men: Clinton and Obama.

Goodbye from Vienna. Will be in touch tomorrow!

Send Gary an e-mail.

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This article was provided by TheBody. It is a part of the publication The XVIII International AIDS Conference.
See Also
Advocates Urge Obama to Address HIV in the U.S.
President Obama and HIV/AIDS


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