George W Bush Did Two Really Good Things. Republicans Are Trying to Kill Them Both.

I may be a proud partisan, but I try to challenge myself to be clear-eyed enough to recognize good ideas even when they are Republican ideas or policies. It was mostly a futile endeavor during the Bush administration. Try as I might, for a while about the best I could come up with was that Bush didn’t screw up the Balkans and he shut the hell up during the Ukrainians’ Orange Revolution in 2004. I once mentioned to a friend that I had a hard time coming up with good Bush policies. In addition to being a fierce liberal she also works in international development, and without a moment’s hesitation she said that it was easy for her to come up with two things that Bush did that was great: PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, and The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

The Congressional Republicans are insistent on throwing some rancid red meat to their teapartier base, so they are pushing a bunch of draconian budget cuts regardless if they’re stupid and, in the context of the size of the budget deficit, meaningless and gratuitous. Included in those proposed cuts are huge reductions in funding for PEPFAR and the Global Fund.  It doesn’t matter, evidently, if some of their proposed cuts would result in as many dead children overseas as there are residents of Santa Fe, New Mexico:

“We estimate, and I believe these are very conservative estimates, that H.R. 1 would lead to 70,000 kids dying,” USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah testified before the House Appropriations State and Foreign Ops subcommittee.

“Of that 70,000, 30,000 would come from malaria control programs that would have to be scaled back specifically. The other 40,000 is broken out as 24,000 would die because of a lack of support for immunizations and other investments and 16,000 would be because of a lack of skilled attendants at birth,” he said.

As Jonathan Cohn points out, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief came with some typical Bush ideological baggage, like an insistence on pushing abstinence over facing the reality that people engage in sexual intercourse.  But Cohn is right to cite the Republicans’ attacks on programs like PEPFAR as the death knell of Bush’s “compassionate conservatism.”

Compassionate conservatism was never much more than a marketing ploy, a way to gussy up Bush’s reactionary politics with a veneer of kindness and humanity. I’m hard-pressed to come up with any of Bush’s domestic policies that were particularly compassionate. But even if his motives were questionable–what IS it with with evangelical Republicans and Africa?–Bush’s initiatives for helping Africans fight AIDS were unquestionably successful.

Cohn looks at the Republican decisions to gut Bush’s compassionate conservative policies, with the results including African infected with AIDS being unable to continue to get the drugs that keep them alive, and concludes that “if Republicans have paused even a moment to think about these things, they sure haven’t shown it.” I think Cohn is too generous to many of the Republicans. Whether they have or haven’t paused to think of the consequences for Africans probably doesn’t matter. The only things most Congressional Republicans care about are blocking tax increases on the rich, trying to inflict political damage on Barack Obama and mollifying their teapartier base. The teapartiers don’t care about doing anything good through foreign aid. Therefore, whether they think about it or not, House Republicans don’t care whether Africans infected with AIDS no longer receive the drugs that keep them alive or whether 70,000 children die.

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