Cheney Draws Criticism From Fla. Democrats for Response to Question About HIV, African-American Women During Debate
Vice President Dick Cheney drew a "sharp rebuke" from Florida Democrats at a press conference Thursday for saying during Tuesday's vice presidential debate that he was "not aware" that HIV/AIDS disproportionately affects African-American women, the Miami Herald reports (Clark/Robinson, Miami Herald, 10/8). During Tuesday's debate, PBS news correspondent Gwen Ifill, who moderated the debate, said to Cheney, "I want to talk to you about AIDS, and not about AIDS in China or Africa, but AIDS right here in this country, where black women between the ages of 25 and 44 are 13 times more likely to die of the disease than their [white] counterparts. What should the government's role be in helping to end the growth of this epidemic?" Both Cheney and Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards shifted the conversation to foreign HIV/AIDS policy and general health care policy when asked what the U.S. government should do to curb HIV/AIDS prevalence among black women in the United States. While Cheney said that he was "not aware" that black women are 13 times as likely to die of AIDS-related causes as white women, Edwards said that HIV/AIDS prevention in the United States is part of the "bigger question" about the future of health care in the country (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/7). Florida state Democratic lawmakers held a press conference at a health clinic in Liberty City, Fla., following Cheney's appearance on Thursday at a campaign event in Miami. "The bottom line is we are yet invisible," state Rep. Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall (D) said. Other attendees said that the Bush administration was "out of touch," according to the Herald. However, a Bush campaign spokesperson said that Edwards also "failed to answer the question" by discussing the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa and criticizing the administration for increases in the number of uninsured people in the United States, the Herald reports (Miami Herald, 10/8).
In response to Tuesday's debates, the National Association of People with AIDS sent letters to both Cheney and Edwards to "express concern" about their answers to Ifill's question, the Advocate reports. In the letter sent to Cheney, NAPWA Executive Director Terje Anderson "disputes" the vice president's claim that the administration has "made progress in terms of the overall rate of AIDS infection" by noting that the number of new HIV infections in the United States each year has remained at approximately 40,000, according to the Advocate. Anderson added that he is "shocked" that Cheney was unaware that HIV disproportionately affects African-American women, the Advocate reports. In NAPWA's letter to Edwards, Anderson said that the candidate "missed an important opportunity, with millions of Americans watching, to talk about HIV incidence in African-American women," as well as the increasing need for care, treatment, housing and the reinstatement of Ryan White CARE Act funding (Advocate, 10/8). POZ magazine also announced Thursday that it is endorsing Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) and said that Cheney's remarks during the debate were "just one more sign that [the Bush] administration continues to ignore the truth about AIDS," POZ founder Sean Strub said, according to a release. "Instead of relying on facts, [the administration] gave control to religious conservatives who have murderously pursued scientifically discredited abstinence-only policies, putting people at even greater risk of acquiring HIV," Strub said, adding, "They care more about saving souls -- as they define them -- than saving lives." The November issue of POZ includes a voters' guide to the candidate's positions and records on HIV/AIDS issues (POZ release, 10/7).
Several newspapers have published opinion pieces in response to Cheney's and Edwards' responses to the HIV/AIDS question during the vice presidential debate. Summaries of some of the articles appear below:
- Bonnie Marshall, USA Today: Although neither Cheney nor Edwards "provided an adequate answer" to Ifill's question, the "world is now aware of what the White House and most Americans didn't know -- an AIDS epidemic is ravaging black women in this country," Marshall, founder and CEO of the Global Initiative on AIDS, writes in a USA Today opinion piece. Despite this epidemic, "little or no credible, realistic or effective response has come out of this administration," and there is "little confidence that a Kerry-Edwards administration would do any more," Marshall says. "Our vote is the ultimate megaphone," Marshall writes, concluding, "But before we speak on Nov. 2, we must be heard today. Ifill provided the question. It's up to the rest of us to make sure that we receive the answer" (Marshall, USA Today, 10/8).
- Debra Pickett, Chicago Sun-Times: While both vice presidential candidates "seemed completely stumped" by the question about HIV prevalence among African-American women, the Bush administration's "twin obsessions with gay sex and abortion have had profound consequences for women's health in this country" because their "supposedly compassionate conservatism is, quite literally, making us sick," columnist Pickett writes in a Sun-Times opinion piece. Although HIV/AIDS prevalence among African-American women has "skyrocketed," the administration has "moved away from the very strategies proven to reduce transmission," Pickett says, noting that HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson appointed former Rep. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) -- a doctor who "first made a name for himself by opposing the use of condoms, sex education and anonymous HIV testing to prevent" HIV transmission -- to co-chair the President's Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. Moreover, the "increasingly politicized" HHS in 2002 began to "penalize long-established, community-based" HIV/AIDS prevention programs, claiming that they violate CDC regulations concerning federal funding by "promoting" sex in workshops that deal with condom use, Pickett says. "[C]ompassionate conservatives would rather see people get sick and die than have to admit that, sometimes, a faith-based approach isn't enough," Pickett concludes (Pickett, Chicago Sun-Times, 10/8).
NPR's "Tavis Smiley Show" on Friday is scheduled to include a report on facts about HIV/AIDS and black women that "seemed to stump the vice presidential candidates" during their debate (Smiley, "Tavis Smiley Show," NPR, 10/8). The complete segment will be available online in RealPlayer after the broadcast. This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.