The World According to Bono

Bono made the humanitarian case for addressing debt, AIDS, trade and Africa, but he also put forth a bold argument based on national security.
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A college campus lecture about AIDS delivered by a guy named Paul Hewson?

Not my idea of a well-spent Friday night.

Except, of course, that Paul Hewson is Bono, which made his lecture last week in Penn's 1,260 seat Irvine Auditorium a tougher ticket than, well, a U2 concert at the Wachovia Center.

Having had the pleasure of the latter no less than three times this calendar year alone, I was anxious to get a look at 'Professor Hewson.' We all know he can sing. And those of us who have watched him singing live know he possesses a sense of "cool" that can only be God-given. But in advance, I wondered whether the man who spellbinds stadium crowds, the rock superstar who has just graced the covers of both the New York Times Magazine and Rolling Stone, could make an intellectual case for social change to even non-liberals, like me?

The answer is yes.

He did it by being: funny (beginning his speech by saying he was nervous because he's not used to playing rooms with less than 20,000 people), engaging about very serious subject matter (effectively using a story told to him by Congressman Tom Lantos to equate indifference to African AIDS with facilitation of the Holocaust), and deft (knowing, for example, how to strike the right balance between tweaking, but not alienating, the Bush Administration -- was he "surprised" or "delighted" by the president's awareness of his issues?).

This was Bono, in his role as co-founder of DATA (debt, AIDS, trade and Africa) captivating a crowd that looked more like the Parents Association of the Lower Merion Soccer League than a roomful who'd come to hear a rock superstar. But that is the point, really. Bono is using his celebrity to put a subject into the living room of individuals -- like me -- who are unaccustomed to wearing social activism on our sleeves. For that, he deserves the accolades he receives. He is making American suburbanites knowledgeable about the plight of individuals whose future welfare will have no bearing on our lives.

Or will it?

Bono made the humanitarian case for addressing debt, AIDS, trade and Africa, but he also put forth what I thought was a bold argument based on national security. As he often does, Bono said that the toll of AIDS in Africa is the equivalent of two "9/11's" per day. Imagine that. The Twin Towers, Pentagon and Shanksville, times two every day -- reason enough, to be sure, for American attention. But he also reminded the crowd that poverty leads to despair, and that despair leads to violence.

In other words, the war on terror demands our attention to Africa now.

This self pro-claimed "fan" of America, who repeatedly professed his "love" for our country, reminded the audience that right now, "brand America" needs friends in the world, and Bono argued that given Africa's 40% Muslim composition, it was in America's best security interest to address the problems of Africa now, rather than face possible consequences, later.

"The better world happens to be the safer world; it's a pretty good bargain."

It was a compelling case. And maybe he's uniquely suited to make it. Bono is a very special guy: Monogamous in a world of opportunity born of adulation; loyal to four guys and a manager who've been joined at the hip for three decades; a lone voice on the domestic and international world who is able to transcend the Fox vs. CNN crosstalk in which we live; someone able to get a standing ovation on an Ivy League campus the same week he had lunch with the President; and a man who once enticed Jesse Helms, hearing aid and all, to a U2 show.

Hell, Bono has been able to unite Rick Santorum and Act Up on the same page to fight AIDS in Africa. Top that!

And how does he use his stature? By spending an 'off' Friday night while his band is touring not throwing a TV set out of a hotel room window, but by traveling from Washington to Philadelphia to make the case to one thousand Americans for the need to get active solving the problems of Africa.

Very cool indeed.

No wonder that Bono has enlisted two million Americans to support his One campaign.

Ok, make it two million and one.

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