I don’t mean to bug ya

BonoAndBushI should have highlighted this article a week ago, but I’ve confirmed that it’s still available online (and, thanks to a tip from Avram, we now have a non-expiring link). In last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, James Traub wrote about Bono, debt, economics and political lobbying, and he kept it all interesting for more than 9,000 words. Then again, it’s hard to be dull when Bono is part of the story.

The profile shows Bono as a pragmatic lobbyist, a rock star willing to work, despite the advice and the disapproval of many around him, with the Bush administration. Traub doesn’t take long to deliver the sort of condescension toward Bushies that seems de rigueur in the Times:

When I went to meet Bono at the bar of his hotel, I saw Richard Gere seated at a table with a gorgeous woman in a little fur jacket and a leather cap. Bono, on the other hand, had removed himself to a quiet back room, where he was keeping company with a plump, middle-aged white guy in a suit and tie. (Bono was wearing a T-shirt and a fuzzy sweater whose sleeve needed mending.) This was Randall Tobias, head of the Bush administration’s AIDS program. The administration had just announced that the program was providing antiretroviral drugs to 155,000 Africans with AIDS. Another kind of activist might have said, “That leaves 25 million more to go.” But not Bono: he looked his cornfed interlocutor in the eye and said, “You should know what an incredible difference your work is going to make in their lives.” Tobias looked embarrassed. Bono said various wonderful things about President Bush. Tobias beamed.

Traub does not write at length about Bono’s faith, but he does mention in passing that Bono’s children attend the Church of Ireland. (Interpreting the world through an excessively American lens, Traub calls that church “Episcopalian.” It’s the other way around: The Church of Ireland is, like the Episcopal Church, Anglican.)

He also delivers the most tender description I’ve ever read of Bono’s first visit with Sen. Jesse Helms, one of his several surprising allies in the ONE Campaign:

In mid-2000, Bono received an audience with Senator Jesse Helms, viewed by Bono’s fellow lefties, including members of the band, as the archfiend himself. Bono quickly realized that his usual spiel about debt service and so on wasn’t making a dent. So, he recalls: “I started talking about Scripture. I talked about AIDS as the leprosy of our age.” Married women and children were dying of AIDS, he told the senator, and governments burdened by debt couldn’t do a thing about it. Helms listened, and his eyes began to well up. Finally the flinty old Southerner rose to his feet, grabbed for his cane and said, “I want to give you a blessing.” He embraced the singer, saying, “I want to do anything I can to help you.” [Former Congressman John] Kasich, who was watching from a couch, says, “I thought somebody had spiked my coffee.”

Finally there is this wonderful image of how Bono mixes stubborn negotiation skills and evangelical piety as he works with the Bush administration:

Bono told [Condoleezza] Rice that he would appear with Bush at an event promoting the president’s development-assistance program if Bush would also commit to “a historic AIDS initiative.” The day before the planned appearance, in March, Bono learned that the president would not do so. He was now playing for dizzyingly high stakes. Virtually everyone around Bono despised Bush; and now some of his most trusted advisers urged him to deny the administration his precious gift of legitimacy. And Bono, in an uncharacteristic act of confrontation, called Rice and said he was pulling out of the joint appearance.

Rice was very unhappy. She recalls telling him, “Bono, this president cares about AIDS, too, and let me tell you that he is going to figure out something dramatic to do about AIDS.” But, she added, “You’re going to have to trust us.” Bono accepted her pledge. According to Scott Hatch, a former aide to the Republican House leadership whom Bono hired to help him gain access to conservatives, “Bono really took it on the chin from the left for dealing with a Republican president.” But Bono says he felt that the administration deserved praise for the aid package; and he trusted the Bush White House, though his friends thought him ludicrously naïve. He says that he has not regretted his trust. “I have found personally that I have never been overpromised,” he says. “In fact, the opposite — they tell me they won’t do something, and finally they do it.”

As he was being taken to meet Bush, Bono recalls, he told the driver to circle the block a few times while he sat with a Bible in his lap, hunting frantically for a verse about shepherds and the poor. He was getting later and later. Finally he found a passage to his liking, and he went into the Oval Office. There he recited the passage he had chosen from the Gospel of Matthew: “For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in. . . .” Bono then presented Bush with an edition of the Psalms for which he had written the foreword.

The Bono of this profile is not as politically pure as the rock star who once hectored his audience in the film Rattle & Hum (Traub recounts Bono’s famous “Am I bugging you?” moment.) He’s a whole lot more interesting, open-hearted, creative — and effective.

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  • http://agrumer.livejournal.com/ Avram

    Do you folks know about the NY Times Link Generator? Years back, the Times made a deal with Dave Winer to provide non-expiring links for his blogging software to use. Someone worked up a web interface for the links.

    Here’s the non-expiring link for that article.

  • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=2 Douglas LeBlanc

    Thanks, Avram, for the excellent tip. I’ll add the non-expiring link to this post, and consult the link generator henceforth!

  • Pingback: Thinklings

  • Tim G.

    I just got the chills reading the article. Thanks for linking to it.

  • Will S.

    Bono believes very much in the Social Gospel, which, in and of itself, is commendable enough. But he is not orthodox at all in terms of his “faith” – he endorses “gay rights” and has stated that churches that believe in such are the kind he supports… In one of his songs back in the mid-90s, he stated “In my house there are many mansions, and there are many rooms to see – but I left by the back door, and threw away the key. And for the first time, I feel love.”

    For the life of me, I don’t get the admiration of many Christians for Bono, and their numbering him amongst themselves, when his thoughts, words, and deeds, suggest otherwise.

  • Erik Nelson

    Bono’s certainly not orthodox in his theology. But I think many do appreciate his willingness to work with evangelicals when so many others will not. While other artistic-elite types look down on evangelicals, Bono doesn’t. So I think the admiration comes from his authentic engagement with evangelicals. That kind of authenticity is rare enough that when evangelicals find it, they tend to gush–even to the point of ignoring some of the more significant theological problems.

    Just because he’s not really an evangelical (by most definitions of that word) does not mean his work and attitude are not admirable. He’s one of the few activists who comes across as practical, rather than partisan. That’s why he’s so effective.

  • http://lifeandgrace.blogspot.com Patti

    If only more believers would work out their faith in as open a manner as Bono has. He may not adhere to every bit of doctrine as conservative evangelicals, but he ACTS on his faith and addresses injustice as he sees it – often pointing out the obvious that the rest of the church has chosen (either consciously or unconsciously) to avoid as regards AIDS and global poverty.

    I don’t have trackback available to me on my blog, but I have linked to this entry.

  • trierr

    I’m curious. When did a gay-rights become a theological orthodoxy test? Is it unbiblical to support protections for gays in employement? My understanding was that orthodoxy had to do with scriptural authority, faith vs. works for salvation and the person of Jesus Christ (to name a handful of important issues).

    I think the thing I like most about Bono is that he is such a thorn in the backside of so many so-called orthodox evangelicals. You can dislike his politics but you can not discount how his faith is working itself out in the real world.

  • Chip

    “Bono’s certainly not orthodox in theology.” I don’t think you can make a blanket statement like that, Erik. If you want a ringing (if highly personal) defense of Christ’s atonement, see the book Bono in Conversation. With regard to Christology and many other aspects of faith, Bono is incredibly orthodox. It’s true that he does not meet that criteria on some social issues. He also has no problems with personifying the Holy Spirit as a woman, as numerous U2 songs testify. But while he’s no evangelical, as far as I can tell, he’s mostly orthodox. His distrust of the church is saddening, though.

    Will, I don’t think you’ve looked at “The First Time” closely enough. Yes, the speaker of the song rejects God, but depending on how you read the song (and multiple interpretations are valid), it can be taken as a parable of God’s constant love amidst our unfaithfulness. You also have to take into account the context of the song: It falls in the middle of an album that, Ecclesiastes-like, is concerned with showing the futility of life without God. (Recall Bono’s famous quote from that time period (paraphrased): “It took us a decade to move from the Psalms to Ecclesiastes.” ) And one final caution: Never assume that the speaker of a given U2 song is Bono. Bono’s like any other writer; he creates voices to explore different ways of looking at the world. For example, he once said that the song “Wake Up Dead Man” didn’t reflect his own views, but rather that he wrote it for friends who wanted to believe in God but found that they couldn’t do so.

  • http://u2sermons.blogspot.com/ Beth

    I gotta ask where the Times fact-checkers were with that “Episcopal”/”Anglican” thing on a larger issue as well. You don’t cite it directly, Doug, but when the writer refers to Bono’s Anglican connection, he interprets it as “splitting the difference” between his mother’s Protestantism and his father’s Catholicism. Yow. The mother was indeed Protestant — which means, Church of Ireland. Bono was raised Church of Ireland, and is now raising his children Church of Ireland. Talk about American lenses!


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