"I'll give some speeches, just to replenish the ol' coffers... I don't know what my dad gets - it's more than 50-75" thousand dollars a speech."
-George W. Bush on life after the Presidency
As you tap your watch to hurry along January 20th, and James Buchanan's ghost counts the days until he can formally leave the bottom of any reasonable Presidential ranking list, talk inevitably turns to your legacy. As far as having any to speak of, it's not looking good with the unnecessary war, Katrina, the tanking economy, last minute deregulation of worker safety measures, the list goes on. However, it is World AIDS Day -- and despite the countless, grave failures of the past eight years, it's hard to not give you at least a B minus on your work toward fixing the AIDS crisis in Africa. Yes, you clouded up the largest health aid effort the U.S. has ever embarked on with a ridiculous moralistic undertone that demanded that one-third of the funds in PEPFAR be used for programs that promote abstinence, but there are still well over a million people receiving treatment for HIV and AIDS in Africa because of it. The initial 15 billion is over fifteen times what that Clinton administration spent fighting the global AIDS pandemic, and Congress axed the abstinence nonsense when they renewed the program this year.
Of course, no amount of good will and hard work can undo or vindicate the mess that your administration has left this country in, but come January 20th, you have a chance to at least get started in providing the framework for a few nice paragraphs to go at the end of your Wikipedia entry.
Now, I know Republicans aren't big on working after they leave office. I don't personally think they're much to speak of before then either, but the record of Democratic ex-presidents and Veeps completely obliterates the GOP post-presidential title with points to spare. The Clinton Global Initiative has provided medication to nearly a billion HIV/AIDS victims globally. Al Gore has done more to make the world get serious about Climate Change than any other individual or entity. Jimmy Carter (who should be your ex-Presidential role model -- your Dad will understand) has a record of good works so expansive that it long ago overshadowed history's view of his Presidency. Indeed, if anyone were to write a Carter biography and have him still be President after the first third of the book, they will have done a bad job. By way of contrast, Bush 41 has very little charity work to speak of where he doesn't play second fiddle to Clinton. Herbert Hoover's work for the Boys and Girls Clubs in the 1950s is the last charity initiative for a Republican ex-president or Vice President to spearhead.
So, Mr. President, when you leave office, get to work. Break the Republican ex-Presidential mold. Don't waste your days golfing and making speeches for a hefty fee to replenish the coffers. Join Clinton and Carter in the club of ex-Presidents who actually do something after they leave office. Do for AIDS in Africa what Al Gore is doing for Global Warming. It's an issue you actually have some credibility on. Vocal AIDS activists like Bob Geldof and Bono (who has diverted 115 million consumer dollars to fight AIDS in Africa via (RED), plus five cents from my coffee today from Starbucks), has unendingly praised your work in Africa. Despite your leaving disaster in your wake in every other facet of your presidency, this is the one issue the world will still listen to you on.
Right now, there are over 24 million people infected in sub-Saharan Africa alone. Providing anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs to one person costs about 43 cents a day, or $158 a year. Treating all people with HIV/AIDS in Africa for a year would cost $3.8 billion. That's what it costs to maintain the war in Iraq for nine days, and there are donors you can muscle it out of folks that no one else has the kind of access to that you do. You've been in Big Pharma's pocket as long as you've been in the White House. Ask it to hop into yours and work on reducing the cost of ARVs.
Keep the values of your own bedroom in Crawford, and help start and fund programs that emphasize condom use. I know the awkward muffled laughter that comes with watching our school nurse put a condom on a banana in health class, and I wish that and the lower infection rate that would follow for all of Africa.
Of course, I have my reservations about your running anything competently, and someone with your wacky belief system is probably not the best person to run an HIV/AIDS program, but hey -- it's worth a shot. If you continue to make this the one thing that you don't massively screw up, and devote your days as a private citizen to it, Africa will thank you in the end, and so will your reputation.
So Happy World AIDS Day, Mr. President. On January 20th, screw the coffers and get to work.
Follow Max Bernstein on Twitter: www.twitter.com/maxmarginal