Monday, November 07, 2005

Burying the hatchets to help the developing world?

In today's New York Times, Nicolas Kristof argues that "if only left and right can hold their noses and work together, we can confront some of the scourges of our time - sex trafficking, genocide, religious oppression, prison brutality - on which there is surprising agreement about what needs to be done."

But is that true? While there is wide agreement about what the problems are, it is unlikely that there is similar agreement about possible solutions. Decisions are never based solely on the best available evidence. Our values and/or ideology also help determine whether a particular plan of action is considered (un)necessary or (un)warranted.

Kristof uses the example of maternal health: "For all the battles over abortion and condoms, both sides can agree that half a million women shouldn't be dying unnecessarily in childbirth each year around the world, when modest investments can save their lives." Not to be flippant, but I'd bet that most people would consider that a bad thing.

The struggle comes in defining "modest investments." Conservative political and religious influence on U.S. policymaking means that aid for global family planning efforts cannot be used for abortion counseling or services and global HIV/AIDS funds are restricted to those programs that are on record as opposing prostitution. These values and ideologies also helped convince President Bush to commit $15 billion to global HIV/AIDS efforts through PEPFAR, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, as well as make controversial choices about how the program would be run . An administration with a more liberal perspective would likely come to different conclusions.

In the current polarized political atmosphere in America, bipartison consensus on identifying seemingly unarguable problems may be worth celebrating. But the devil is always in the details.

--Angela Thrasher, guest contributor

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