- The Washington Times - Monday, July 7, 2003

Although Bill Clinton reveled in his image as the “first black president,” President Bush has won plaudits for doing more to help blacks in Africa, which he is visiting this week.

The most prominent example of this disparity is in the funding of the fight against AIDS. Mr. Bush recently pushed a $15 billion AIDS bill through Congress.

“His $15 billion commitment is unparalleled,” said Melvin Foote, executive director of the nonpartisan Constituency for Africa. “Clinton offered $300 million, parking-meter money, even though he knew it was a tremendous challenge.”

Even liberals have credited Mr. Bush with doing more than his predecessor to help Africa. In May, Live Aid founder Bob Geldof said Mr. Bush is far more committed than Mr. Clinton to fighting AIDS and famine on the continent.

“Clinton talked the talk and did diddly squat, whereas Bush doesn’t talk but does deliver,” said Mr. Geldof, an Irish musician and activist who in 1985 staged the world’s largest rock concert to combat starvation in Africa.

“You’ll think I’m off my trolley when I say this, but the Bush administration is the most radical, in a positive sense, in the approach to Africa since Kennedy,” he said.

In February actor Richard Gere lashed out against Mr. Clinton’s record during an AIDS benefit attended by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat.

“Senator Clinton, I’m sorry, your husband did nothing for AIDS for eight years,” Mr. Gere said from the podium, although Mrs. Clinton had left the room.

Mr. Clinton later belittled Mr. Gere for the remark.

“I don’t blame Richard Gere, because he’s an actor. He doesn’t know,” Mr. Clinton told CNN. “I think that somebody told Richard Gere something because they were trying to score a few political points.”

Although Mr. Clinton praised his successor for showing “great growth on this issue,” he defended his own record on AIDS.

“We more than doubled domestic spending,” he said. “We established the AIDS czar, the AIDS council. We started the vaccine initiative. So I am very proud of our record, and we did it in a hostile environment.”

Mr. Bush described his policy on AIDS and other problems facing Africa as a series of “bold initiatives” backed by a “well-intentioned administration.”

“Look, I have been talking about Africa since I was sworn in as president,” he told African journalists at the White House on Friday. “I’ve met with 22, I believe it is, heads of state here.”

Story Continues →