Obama Missing 'Historic Opportunity' By Not Appearing In Person At AIDS 2012

“President Barack Obama has a standing invitation to speak at the [XIX International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., next week], and he likely would be welcomed with loud cheers given his progressive HIV/AIDS policies,” journalist Jon Cohen writes in a Slate opinion piece. “But Obama apparently can’t carve out the time, which both runs the risk of angering a volatile community and squandering a historic opportunity,” he continues. Though some “U.S. government officials who have made presentations at the meeting … have weathered humiliating greetings, … Obama would face none of this hostility,” Cohen writes, noting that the U.S. “today spends more money on HIV/AIDS research than all countries combined and also is the single most generous donor to the global effort to combat the disease.”

“Obama is often called upon to participate in events in part because he is a symbol of progress and history, but … [a]s a black American, Obama belongs to a community that makes up 14 percent of the population but now accounts for nearly half of the new infections in this country,” he writes, adding, “He also is the son of a Kenyan, and no region has suffered more from HIV than sub-Saharan Africa.” Cohen discusses possible reasons why Obama is not appearing in person at the conference, and concludes, “[A]side from turning allies into adversaries,” if Obama limits his presence to a video welcoming, “he also will be turning his back on a chance to fortify his position as the leader of the global movement to end the epidemic. Yes, it could cost him votes. But it could also win him the world’s lasting admiration and gratitude” (7/19). In a separate article, Cohen and Slate designer Andrew Morgan present a list of leaders who spoke in person at the conference and those who did not (7/19).