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