March 20, 2002
Speaking their language

Via Tom Tomorrow comes this story of how U2 lead singer Bono persuaded Republican leaders to give extra aid to poor countries. It's a fantastic story of pragmatism and speaking the right language. I'd like to discuss a couple of points. First, how Bono got involved:

Is it possible to appear in public with the likes of [Senator Jesse] Helms and [President] Bush and preserve that precious commodity - street-cred? If it's not, says Bono, it's a price worth paying. "Edge was pleading with me not to hang out with the conservatives. He said, 'You're not going to have a picture with George Bush?' I said I'd have lunch with Satan if there was so much at stake. I have friends who won't speak to me because of Helms. But its very important not to play politics with this. Millions of lives are being lost for the stupidest of reasons: money. And not even very much money. So let's not play, Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys? Let's rely on the moral force of our arguments."

Amazing what you can do when your aim is to get something done, even if it's not perfect in every way. There's quite a few bitter remarks I could make here about Nader voters and their passion for the perfect at the cost of the good, but once I get started on that rant it's hard to stop. This in and of itself would be enough to win my deepest respect for Bono's accomplishment, but this next excerpt puts him truly in another class:

Meanwhile, the US wing of Jubilee 2000 hit on the idea of persuading the Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, a Baptist, to write a letter to Baptist churches across southern US states explaining the Biblical principles behind debt cancellation. Suddenly, Bono found he had access to a swathe of strongly Christian Republicans compelled by his Biblical theme - what Bono calls "the melody line" of his pitch. "We knew we had to get both sides," he explains. "So we got Billy Graham and the Pope and I went to people like Jesse Helms, who had been very tough on the the concept of foreign assistance and very bleak on Aids. He's a religious man so I told him that 2103 verses of scripture pertain to the poor and Jesus speaks of judgment only once - and it's not about being gay or sexual morality, but about poverty. I quoted that verse of Matthew chapter 25: 'I was naked and you clothed me.' He was really moved. He was in tears. Later he publicly acknowledged that he was ashamed..."

That's just impressive. How do you think it would have gone over if Bono had tried to lay liberal guilt on Jesse Helms? I think using the Bible to advance arguments against religious conservatives is a viable strategy that no one ever thinks about. I wonder what Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell and other multimillionaire preachers think about these verses from Matthew, for example:

16 And behold, one came and said unto Him, "Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?"
17 And He said unto him, "Why callest thou Me good? There is none good but One, that is, God. But if thou wilt enter into Life, keep the commandments."
18 He said unto Him, "Which?" Jesus said, "`Thou shalt do no murder; thou shalt not commit adultery; thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not bear false witness;
19 honor thy father and thy mother; and, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.'"
20 The young man said unto Him, "All these things have I kept from my youth up. What lack I yet?"
21 Jesus said unto him, "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell what thou hast and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in Heaven; and come and follow Me."
22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
23 Then said Jesus unto His disciples, "Verily I say unto you, that a rich man shall hardly enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.
24 And again I say unto you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God."

I suppose they'd respond with verse 26, which is basically "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." Still, I'd love to ask the question. There's plenty more like this if you've got the time and a sufficiently devious mind.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 20, 2002 to Around the world