I 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 naÃ¯ve. 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.