October 5, 2007
STUDENTS PUT CANDIDATES ON HOT SEAT
Clinton's after-party crashers
St. Michael's College in New Hampshire asks a lot of its students—in its "Global AIDS" course, students are encouraged to do projects that will impact HIV/AIDS worldwide. Sophomore political science major Madison Reeve deserves some serious extra credit: Last Thursday, she got Sen. Hillary Clinton to verbally agree to commit $50 billion to fund global AIDS.
"It was kind of the coolest thing I've ever done in my life," said Reeve, 19, who has a chart on her dorm room wall listing all the candidates and their positions on HIV/AIDS. While Edwards is the only presidential candidate who has announced an official AIDS platform, bird-doggers—people who ask politicians in a public forum to take a stance on an issue, or to question a stance that a candidate has already taken—like Reeve are getting candidates to dribble out their positions.
Last Thursday Reeve and three of her classmates attended the Clinton's packed after-party following the Democratic debate at Dartmouth University. Wearing Clinton T-shirts, the college students blended into the crowd, but they weren't your average attendees. As the students shook Clinton's hand, Kate Mooney, a junior at St. Michael's asked, "Senator Clinton, will you support $50 billion over five years for global AIDS?"
"I'm sure going to try to," Clinton responded, according to Reeve. Not satisfied with this noncommittal response, Reeve and her classmate followed Clinton as she was heading toward her car. "John Edwards committed $50 billion to global AIDS over five years. Will you as well?" Reeve asked. "I support all that stuff," Clinton told Reeve. Reeve, pressing for a firmer answer, asked again, "$50 billion for five years for global AIDS?" To which Clinton responded, "Absolutely, I support it."
"She was very much brushing me off," Reeve said, who nonetheless was thrilled to get Clinton's verbal commitment.
Experts say the U.S. needs to spend $50 billion in order to staunch the worldwide AIDS epidemic. Clinton's office didn't return the Update's calls, but there are murmurings that the Senator plans to release a large-scale AIDS plan soon that includes the $50 billion Clinton promised Reeve.
By the book
Clinton's not the only Senator responding to bird-doggers about Global AIDS. On Tuesday in Columbia, South Carolina, Mary Carol Jennings, a resourceful medical student, waited in line for two hours at Sen. Joe Biden's book signing, with a borrowed copy of the book, Promises to Keep. When she reached the signing table, Jennings said, "Senator Biden, I'm a medical student, and I don't have $25 dollars to buy your book, but I brought the last copy from the library in case you wanted to sign it. And I wanted to ask you a question." Biden said that he hoped she would be "Dr. Jennings" some day and gave her a free copy of his tome (much to the chagrin of the women behind Jennings who had paid their $25). But Jennings kept talking. "As a medical student I've cared for many patients dying of AIDS here in South Carolina. Senator Edwards actually committed to $50 billion to fight global AIDS—" The famously long-winded Senator talked about his past accomplishments on global AIDS, but finally told Jennings, "So what I'm saying is I'm on board with you and I have been."
Jennings said Biden was polite and engaging, and she was happy with his answer, which he has given to bird-doggers before.
But Biden's camp was less unequivocal when approached about the number afterwards. "Sen. Biden would like to go as high as $50 billion, though it will probably be between $30 and $50 billion," a spokesperson for Biden told the Update.Jennings was discouraged to hear Biden's camp's backtrack. "I know politicians are politicians, but it’s always encouraged me about Biden that he seems to be trustworthy, and seems to speak what he means," Jennings said. "So to hear these disparate messages coming from his campaign is disheartening."
We'll keep you posted as bird-doggers continue to force the 2008 presidential candidates to talk about—and commit to fighting—AIDS, domestically and internationally.