Two days before the White House conference on AIDS last December, I was angry and discouraged. I argued with some of the White House staff about how the conference was being organized and explained to them that the AIDS community was dissatisfied. I wanted a frank and open give and take with questions and answers from the community, particularly PWAs. Staff wanted tight control, scripted speakers and hand-picked questioners.
I went ballistic. I showed up at the White House AIDS Office with both hands on hips, saying I wouldn’t allow this disaster to happen to the President. I insisted that I talk with him. I got nowhere. I went home annoyed and frustrated but called my “good guy” friends on the White House staff. I explained why I must talk to the President. While sitting on my couch watching Ricki Lake, the phone rang; it was the President.
“Hello, my friend,” said President Clinton. “I hear you’re frustrated.”
“Frustrated!,” I said -- and then for 20 minutes, we talked about AIDS issues, community concerns, the conference and personal issues -- he was wonderful -- but in conclusion, I told him, “Mr. President, tomorrow everybody will tell you how great everything is. The researchers will tell you how great things are because we have new drugs and they’ll want more federal dollars. Your staff will tell you how great things are so you will think they’re great. Even the activists will say great things because they want to be invited back. But, Mr. President, let me tell you how great things are going for you personally regarding AIDS. There were six PWAs you knew who worked for your election. They were Elizabeth Glazer, Bruce Decker, Patrick Lippert, Paula Carrol, Pedro Zamora and me. They are all dead except for me. That’s how ’great’ AIDS is going for you, Mr. President.”
He was taken aback but then he said, “I loved them. We must always remember them and dedicate to end this epidemic for them and thousands like them.” At the conference, he mentioned our conversation and talked about our friends. All who were there saw how touched and truly moved he was. That was Bill Clinton at his best.
That is why I am voting for him. I know that he and Mrs. Clinton care profoundly about people with AIDS. I have been graced with seeing this personal side of the Clintons many times. From personal phone calls during my own chemotherapy to the speeches given and food kitchens visited, as well as from the heroic efforts on behalf of people with AIDS that the President showed in the Medicare battles and that Mrs. Clinton demonstrated in fighting for health care for all Americans.
My personal reasons aside, let’s add the basic political reality of Washington, D.C., which is, if you want to judge somebody’s commitment, follow the money. I’m voting for Bill Clinton because he increased AIDS spending 47% in four budgets presented to Congress, at a time when overall government spending rose only. He ncreased AIDS research funding 34% in four years. He increased Ryan White Care Act 151 percent in four years. He doubled federal funding for AIDS Drug assistance programs. He increased funding 96 percent for Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS. And he fought to preserve the Medicaid guarantee of coverage for people with AIDS.
President Clinton’s leadership includes vigorous enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination against people with AIDS -- including resolving nearly 800 charges of employment discrimination. It includes the creation of a permanent Office of AIDS Research at NIH vested with a new authority to plan and carry out the AIDS research agenda.
Anyone who thinks there is any chance of increased funding for this new generation of hopeful drugs with Bob Dole and a right-wing Republican Congress, or Ross Perot, or Ralph Nader is politically delusional.
If my case for voting for Bill Clinton because of his personal commitment and political accomplishment isn’t enough, let’s just talk about survival. We all do a lot to survive this damn disease. I take medicines, try to be optimistic, laugh a lot, have loving people in my life, stay irreverent, get angry, rage, cry, and act very politically. These are all weapons in my arsenal to stay alive.
Another one of my weapons is voting. Some of my friends say they are not voting this year. They are annoyed or discouraged or feel it doesn’t matter. For me, not voting equals suicide. You have that right, but it isn’t necessary. Voting for someone is not a hot date on the town. Voting is not a reward. Voting is a strategy to help you stay alive. Sometimes the medicines I take make me nauseated; sometimes politics makes me sick. But I still take my medicine. Sometimes politics is one more bitter pill that we have to swallow!
Bill Clinton is not a cure. Bill Clinton is not a protease inhibitor.
Bill Clinton is a better survival strategy than Bob Dole or Ross Perot or staying home. And that’s the truth.