After 17 debates and around a year of campaigning, the Democratic Party is about to make history by nominating either the first woman or the first African American as their standard bearer for the president of the United States of America.
Last week's presidential debate at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles on CNN was a proud moment for America. Watching Senator Obama and Senator Clinton discuss the important issues of our day sent chills up my spine. It made me proud to be an American--something that has been difficult for many Americans over the last few years with torture, Katrina, and an attorney general who was more loyal to the president than he was to the constitution.
The two candidates demonstrated a robust understanding on issues from Immigration and healthcare to national security and the war in Iraq. But for me, what wasn't talked about in their "conversation" rang louder than what was discussed. Through 17 debates in every corner of this country, AIDS has barely been mentioned. And it was not mentioned at all during last week's two hour conversation between the remaining two contenders for the Democratic nomination.
Here's why that is important to Black people. According to a November 26, 2007 report assessing the status of HIV/AIDS in Washington DC by the District's HIV/AIDS administration, our nation's capital has the worst AIDS epidemic of any capital city in the world, where 1 in every 50 people is known to be infected and 80% of the new cases identified between 2001 and 2006 in Washington D.C. are Black.
During his final State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Bush said, "AIDS can be prevented. Anti-retroviral drugs can extend life for many years. ...seldom has history offered a greater opportunity to do so much for so many." He went on to say, "We have confronted, and will continue to confront, HIV/AIDS in our own country."
The president asked Congress to commit $15 billion over the next five years to turn the tide against AIDS in the most afflicted nations of Africa and the Caribbean. But he did not ask for one additional penny to fight AIDS in Black America where according to the June 2007 CDC surveillance report, every hour of every day a Black person dies from AIDS and over two Black people get diagnosed with the disease.
Last week, the Democratic contenders contrasted the president they would be with the president George W. Bush has been. On her Web site, Senator Clinton claims she will be ready to "Step in on Day one". On his website Senator Obama asks us to believe. "Not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington D.C....I'm asking you to believe in yours."
A discussion about AIDS is not just a discussion about some peripheral issue. HIV/AIDS is the preeminent health issue in Black America. It is a civil rights issue. It is a social justice issue. It is an Urban renewal issue. HIV/AIDS undermines Black America's ability to manifest the change every candidate is talking about. To not talk about AIDS is to fundamentally demonstrate that you either don't understand what is going on in our communities or as Kanye West said about one President, you don't care about Black people. Either one must be unacceptable to Black voters.
On Tuesday, February 5th millions of Americans in 22 States will be going to the polls to decide who they want to be the 2008 candidates for the President of the United States of America. Time is running out. I believe in both Mr. Obama's ability to change Washington D.C. and Mrs. Clinton's ability to step in on day one. What we need to know is how Mr. Obama is going to change the AIDS epidemic and will Mrs. Clinton begin to end the AIDS epidemic on day one. We can't know that unless they begin to talk about it. Barack, Hillary, discuss.