26 July 2004
How To Polish 'Brand' America
Make AIDS and global poverty central in the US convention season, writes Bono in the Boston Globe this weekend.
There is a time to navel-gaze, and convention season '04 is one of those times. Post-9/11, it's America's first chance to think collectively about what lies ahead. The big problems. The big solutions.
Sounds exciting to me. The conventions haven't even started, but the television networks are saying there won't be any news. That's not how the rest of the world sees it. Two men are going to speak, and for the next four years one of them will be the most powerful person on the planet. To the rest of the world, what they say is the biggest news around.
That's why I'm going to both conventions. Not just to listen, but to talk. Because when I last looked I couldn't find the biggest global challenge, AIDS and the extreme poverty in which it thrives, on the schedules.
Every constituency wants its box checked, its issue mentioned by the candidates, but this isn't just any "issue," and the people most affected are not a constituency. They don't vote in America; they don't pay taxes in America. They live far away on the plains of the Serengeti or the shantytowns of Senegal, but like it or not, our future in the West is eerily bound up with theirs.
I know this doesn't look good -- I'm a rich Irish rock star, not even a rich American rock star. It makes people wince, including myself. But there's a real opportunity for America to lead an adventure, and the adventure is this: We are the first generation that really can do something about the kind of "stupid" poverty that sees children dying of hunger in a world of plenty or mothers dying for lack of a 20-cent drug that we take for granted. We have the science, we have the resources, what we don't seem to have is the will.
At the conventions, would better billing for this subject make any difference to the star issues already at the top? Jobs? No. Security? Yes. The perception of America? Definitely. Never before has this great country been so scrutinized, and never has the "idea" of America been under such attack. Brand USA could use some polishing, and I say that as a huge fan.
This is an opportunity to show what America stands for. Antiretroviral drugs are great advertisements for American ingenuity and technology. I've said to President Bush and Senator Kerry, both of whom care about this issue passionately, to go ahead and paint these pills red, white, and blue. Because these pharmaceuticals will not just transform the communities and countries that we see on the nightly news, they will transform the way they see us.
I've seen the look in the eyes of people dying three to a bed in Malawi, knowing that for an accident of latitude or longitude they would be saved. Oddly, their looks are never accusatory or defiant -- it's children they leave behind who may become the problem. Eighteen million AIDS orphans by the end of the decade in Africa alone. What will they think of us and from where will order be introduced into their chaotic lives?
Whispering extremists attract recruits when hope has broken down. Surely, in nervous, dangerous times, it is smarter for America to make friends now of potential enemies than defend itself against them later.
Look, this is more than a hill to climb, and there are a few chasms to cross.
Unfair trade is a big one. No-one in the West is ready to jump that yet, but they should. Foreign assistance is another. The United States is 22nd in the list of richest countries when it comes to how much it gives to the poorest as a percentage of our wealth, including private philanthropy. The explanation for this might be the next chasm we have to leap -- a healthy scepticism about whether this money will get into the right hands.
Read the rest of this article here.