PLENTY OF people who see me on TV think I'm excitable, brash and occasionally loud.
They're right. When you've got 15 seconds to make an argument about the critical issues facing America, there's no other way. It's in my personality to be forceful and stand my ground.
But there are times that call for a quieter tone. Even for hot-button issues, more can sometimes be accomplished by settling down, leaning in and having a serious conversation than by screaming your lungs out.
So it is with the issue of AIDS. And though it's not my style, I'm going to try to lean in - and ask you to do the same.
About a month ago, we marked World AIDS Day - filled with red ribbons, demonstrations and Internet greeting cards, all to "prove" that we still care about finding a cure for this deadly affliction. Just 30 days later, the ribbons are frayed, or in the garbage. The only AIDS demonstrations you hear about are by the lunatic "Rev." Fred Phelps, who protests funerals of gays and lesbians and has taken to protesting the funerals of servicemen and women, spreading his homophobic slurs about AIDS.
Since AIDS Day, the most attention paid by the mainstream media was <i>Time</i>'s declaration that Bill and Melinda Gates and Bono were the "persons of the year," in part because of their work fighting AIDS in Africa. Meanwhile, the high water mark by President Bush on the disease was his verbal commitment to fighting world AIDS a few years ago during his State of the Union.
To be sure, AIDS in Africa is important, and fighting it there is a core part of eradicating the disease. But be serious - neither the $15 billion the president committed to spending on the global pandemic, nor the work of the persons of the year will do much to take care of the serious problems with AIDS we have here at home.
According to the Centers for Disease control, HIV/AIDS is the No. 5 killer of Americans 25-44, and the leading cause of death for African-American men 35-44 and African-American women 25-34. In 2003, more than 85 percent of AIDS cases among women were of African-American and Hispanic women, while almost 65 percent of cases among men were African-American and Hispanic. Many, if not most, of these cases are in the inner-cities.
The president has not only been absent from this fight on the homefront, he has been hurting the efforts to fight the disease. Right now, nearly 20 percent of all working African-Americans have no health insurance, almost double that of working white Americans. Meanwhile, the president (as well as many Democrats and Republicans) have been hostile to the notion of universal health care, and has attempted to impose drastic cuts to Medicaid - the No. 1 provider of care to those living with HIV/AIDS in America.
The president has also tried to enact draconian cuts in Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS, which provides help to AIDS victims who might otherwise become homeless, and moderate cuts to the Ryan White CARE Act, the overarching program to fight domestic AIDS.
But the president is not the only one to be blamed for the continuing problem of AIDS in America. In fact, though it's a subject that tends to be avoided, there's the behavior of some with AIDS themselves. Bubbling up is a subculture in the gay community that downplays the risks of dying of AIDS - when it's not overtly encouraging its spread.
The number of gay men who practice "barebacking," or unprotected intercourse, has been on a steady rise, according to multiple studies. Many attribute the rise in unprotected sex to a false sense of security among some that the advances for a cure are proceeding quickly, and that protease inhibitors will at least keep someone with HIV/AIDS alive long enough to see a cure.
An even smaller but growing group are those who call themselves "gift givers" and "bug chasers" - those who actively seek to spread the disease to people who wish to contract AIDS for political or psychological reasons.
The point of all this is that there are still some serious issues to tackle about the spread of AIDS in America that don't get any attention from politicians and celebrities, and plenty of blame to go around for the president, to a small number of those with AIDS, to everyone in between.
It's time that we as a nation remember that after Dec. 1, World AIDS Day, AIDS does not stop spreading right inside our borders because we had a successful day of rallies and ribbons. So let us commit to spend the other 364 days leaning in and figuring out a solution.