Gary White: By definition, people have a higher threshold for foreign aid, because they already believe we give about 10 times more than we actually do.
JG: Bush showed that you could increase aid budgets, I think. He did PEPFAR (a U.S. funded-program -- the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief -- that has brought anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) to more than a million AIDs patients in Africa).
MD: I would kiss George W. Bush on the mouth for what he did on PEPFAR.
JG: How long would you kiss him?
MD: Three seconds. No tongue.
You know, PEPFAR is an incredible thing just in terms of how many lives it saved. These ARVs have a Lazarus effect on people. You see a picture of them before and then you see them vibrant, alive, working. Their whole family has been dragged down by the illness and now this. I went on a trip in 2006 (to Africa) and I just had a sense of national pride going around, talking to these people, and they were so happy, they would say, "America," and I was saying, "Yeah, our president did that, and it's terrific." It's such an obvious connected thing. People aren't going to hate you when you're saving their lives.
JG: Do you think the current administration should be doing more on this than a Republican administration did?
MD: We were just having a jaded chuckle about this in the car. You would have expected that Obama, with his reputation as a pragmatist, would look at PEPFAR, looked at how effective it is, and thought that he should make similar investments in other issues, definitely water and sanitation. Water and sanitation need their own PEPFAR.
GW: The administration has not been out front on development assistance.
JG: Matt, is that what you were getting angry about last year?
MD. All I said last year was that I was disappointed. Love that Jobs Act, though. (Laughs.) Last year, teachers were doing a rally here (in Washington), public school teachers, and my mom is a professor of early childhood education, and I came with her just to try to draw some attention to what's going on. I take issue with a few of the directions Obama has gone in. When you run on something as vague as hope and change, I think a lot of people put their own shit on you.
JG: And you expected more in the area you're most concerned about?
MD: Yes. Or at least some engagement.
GW: The PEPFAR for water is nonexistent.
JG: Why do you think they didn't do something dramatic like George W. Bush?
MD: It's a different world now than it was when Bush was president. It's a harder sell. People are totally preoccupied with things here. He's got a lot of other water to carry, pardon the pun, and his political opponents would make a lot of hay if he were giving a bunch of money to Africa. I'm sure they would try to score political points.
GW: Could a Democrat have done the rapprochement with China? It's the opposite effect. If Obama went to Kenya, people would say he's playing to stereotypes by focusing on Africa. When George Bush did it, it worked. I don't think Obama would have avoided doing more for water and for Africa had he not been dealt such a lousy hand domestically. And certainly the election cycle right now is all about the economy, and it's hard to plan a big foreign policy objective in the middle of your campaign. That's the answer to "Why?" But is that a worthy explanation? I don't think so.