Thompson Does Not ‘Appreciate,’ ‘Understand’ Importance of PEPFAR as Foreign Policy Tool, Opinion Piece Says
Former Sen. Fred Thompson (Tenn.), who is running for the Republican presidential nomination, does not "appreciate or even understand" that fighting HIV/AIDS and other diseases and promoting development in Africa through programs such as the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief are "important foreign policy tools," Michael Gerson, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a columnist for the Washington Post, writes in a Post opinion piece.
According to Gerson, Thompson when answering a question during a campaign stop in Lady's Island, S.C., about whether he supports PEPFAR as a "Christian" and a "conservative," responded that "Christ didn't tell us to go to the government" to address such issues, adding, "He told us to do it." Thompson also said that the "government has its role, but we need to keep firmly in mind the role of the government and the role of us as individuals and as Christians," Gerson writes. Thompson added that he would not "prioritize" foreign aid programs such as PEPFAR because "we've got a lot of problems" in the U.S., Gerson writes. Thompson's "objection" is not to "government spending on public health" but to "spending on foreigners," according to Gerson.
Gerson writes that the 1.4 million people who have received antiretroviral treatment access, the 800,000 HIV-positive pregnant women who have gained access to mother-to-child prevention services and the three million orphans who have received care through PEPFAR are "not a priority" to Thompson. He adds that the position has "damaged" Thompson's "image as a courageous teller of hard truths." Although it is unclear if Thompson "actually believes" his statements or if he was "merely pandering to anti-government conservatives," it is "difficult to imagine what collection of shriveled souls would be excited by an attack on AIDS treatment," according to Gerson. Support for PEPFAR and other foreign aid is "not a matter of being 'Christian' or 'conservative,'" Gerson writes, adding that it is "an expression of compassion and empathy, which reflects a serious conception of America's role in the world" that "should be required" in a president (Gerson, Washington Post, 1/18).