November 13, 2005
"Uno, Dos, Tres, Catorce..."

By Debra Saunders

On Tuesday, I met one of the sharpest politicians I've ever encountered -- U2's Bono, probably the first Irish rock star to meet with The San Francisco Chronicle's editorial board.

Bono shows what one man can do if he's willing to work with people who aren't his partisan allies. He doesn't hide the fact that he lives on the left side of the political spectrum. Still, he has managed to work with the most conservative Republicans by searching for common ground in his fight to end "extreme poverty" and disease in Africa. Having worked across the aisle, Bono has saved more lives than he could have by working with the left alone.

Former Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., credited Bono for turning him into an international AIDS activist. Helms had condemned foreign-aid programs as "rat holes," but after Bono appealed to Helms' Christian values, the senator proposed a $500 million increase in U.S. global AIDS funding.

A recent New York Times magazine profile notes that when Bono decided to bone up on the problems of African debt -- and spearhead an effort to push American pols to cancel debt repayment -- he was tutored by a Kennedy, Bobby Shriver. But Bono didn't stop there. He asked for a meeting with an academic who opposed debt cancellation.

Bono has criticized President Bush when he thought the president was not doing enough. But he also gives Dubya credit for the administration's large increases in foreign aid -- which many other leftists don't want to do. In fact, Bono told The Chronicle, "I think I'm a pretty good judge of character," and as for President Bush, with whom he recently had lunch at the White House, "I really believe he has this (helping and healing Africa's poor) in his mind and heart."

Bono noted that because of a Bush push, 250,000 Africans are using the antiretroviral drugs now, when zero Africans were using them a year before. "It is an amazing thing he's pulled off. Three years ago, people would laugh openly, in your face, at the idea that we could work with the (Bush) administration on this stuff."

Overall, the Bush administration has trebled American aid for Africa. That's big. Bono is the guiding light for The One Campaign to Make Poverty History (www.one.org), with its goal of pressuring Congress to dedicate 1 percent of the federal budget to improve life in the poorest nations. He helps his cause with his practical approach. While the -- all bow -- international community has blasted the Bush approach to dispensing aid, One's website notes, "Approaches like America's Millennium Challenge, which directs assistance to honest governments, are the most effective."

He also sees where the policy of requiring African countries to open their markets has hurt those countries. Consider Ghana: Thanks to free trade, you can now buy American rice in Ghana. That's not good, as so-called free trade has destroyed African agriculture. Bono rightly opposes America's farm subsidies, while noting, "Europe is worse."

Bono also understands that if you want to sell the fight against world poverty, you get further selling the effort as a great "adventure," not "a burden."

So Bono has taken a cue from the right, by setting out to create an "NRA for the poor." It is his goal to change the face of politics in Washington so that members of Congress want to broadcast their votes to boost foreign aid, not downplay them.

National Rifle Association chief lobbyist Chris W. Cox noted that it took the lobby 135 years to reach 4 million dues-paying members. He figures that if Bono wants to mirror the NRA, that means he's "pretty smart."

Smart and effective. In his trademark wraparound sunglasses and a cowboy hat, he's the John McCain of the left -- a man who wants to get things done, not just beat the other side.

On a recent "Saturday Night Live" episode, comedian Tina Fey quipped on the show's weekend update: "U2 lead singer Bono met with President Bush in the White House on Wednesday and urged the president to help the world's poor. The president urged Bono to get back together with Cher."

Funny joke, but what Bono and Bush have done together is save lives.

Copyright 2005 Creators Syndicate

Debra Saunders

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