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Jewish World Review June 22, 2001 / 1 Tamuz, 5761

Laura Ingraham

Laura Ingraham
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Washington's pro-Bono worship is unnerving


http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- THE scene in the private dining room of Washington's ultra-swank Italian restaurant Galileo was startling even for the most jaded of political observers. Leftie U2 rocker Bono, dressed in cool celebrity black, slicked-back longish hair and a leather necklace, was in a one-on-one huddle with Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C.

Conservative Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah and Bill Frist, R-Tenn., both toasted the singer/songwriter, whose work to promote Third World debt relief has made him a semi-regular on the D.C. scene. Liberals were there, too. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., snapped photos of his rocker pal, and incoming Harvard President Larry Summers, acknowledged Bono's unflagging humanitarian commitment.

Let me be clear: I got sucked in, too. When Bono is standing in front of you speaking from the heart, it's easy to forget there are solid arguments on both sides of the debt-relief issue. While President Clinton and the Republicans came together last year to commit the United States to partially canceling the debts of more than 20 of the world's poorest countries, many worried that debt cancellation risked becoming a type of global welfare.

Even the liberal New York Times columnist Tom Friedman suggested that debt relief should have some strings attached. While it's true that in countries such as Tanzania, for every dollar spent to service outstanding debt, a paltry 25 cents is spent on health care, does it make good economic sense to lend money to countries if there is no hope (or discipline) to pay it back?

RELIEF DECISION DUE IN JULY
Members of the G-8 will tackle these issues during their July meeting in Genoa, Italy, where the group Drop the Debt (supported by Bono) is urging a complete cancellation of all outstanding Third World debt.

These rather dry but crucial questions blur into the background when a guy such as Bono speaks. "How can we stand on the sidelines with watering cans as the entire continent of Africa is burning?" he asked during an interview. But after spending about a half-hour talking to him, I realized that whether it's AIDS in Africa or the debt-relief issue, this guy is on to something. He's not just another Susan Sarandon bellowing about the latest trendy political issue.

Whereas most celebs reflexively recoil at everything Bush, Bono was less knee-jerk. "This administration is going to surprise a lot of people," he told me. "My mates think I'm crazy, but I've talked with enough of the top-level folks to know that they really care." The Bush administration, he said, has expressed general support for the principle of debt relief.

Yes, Washington's pro-Bono worship is unnerving, showing once again the inordinate power of celebrity. Yet Bono himself seems uncomfortable about his access: "The only thing worse than a rock star is a rock star with a conscience, a celebrity with a cause," he said, chuckling. "You have all of these spoiled celebrities sounding off."

A REFRESHING CHANGE
That kind of humility and self-awareness is precisely what makes Bono different. Sure, he's way off on his anti-gun stance. Sure, I winced when he went on about his thoughts on organized religion (he is supremely distrustful of it). But still he brings a welcome change from the usual celebrity causes du jour. He doesn't just show up at a charity dinner; he works the Hill like a K Street lobbyist. He schedules meetings. He writes letters. He follows up. At the end of a day in Washington, Bono has almost lost his voice not from singing, but from talking.

It seems apt that U2's tour is called "Elevation"; after all, few other than Bono could have lit a fire under liberal and conservative stalwarts on the same issue. But as alluring a figure as Bono is, it would be a mistake to let his glow blind our politicians to the complexity of the issues he touts so passionately.

06/01/01: Burying conservatism
05/17/01: Ashcroft's abuse of power


JWR contributor Laura Ingraham is the host of a radio show syndicated nationally by Westwood One Radio Network. Comment by clicking here.

© 2001, Laura Ingraham