Matt Damon gives Props to George W. Bush?

Well that is a surprising headline. Here’s an even more surprising one: Matt Damon wants to kiss George Bush on the mouth:

Matt Damon, known for his liberal politics, gave credit where credit was due to former President George W. Bush.

And he said he’d do it with more than just thanks.

“I would kiss George W. Bush on the mouth for what he did on PEPFAR,” he told The Atlantic in an extensive interview about his charity work.

From that piece:

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.

Well, good for Matt Damon, who — for all of his sometimes insulting and inappropriate remarks about folks on the right — is able to be fair enough to give credit where it’s due. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this were a baby-step toward the nation moving away from our paralyzing (and stupid) polarization?

Bush did something really great in Africa and helped to save a lot of lives, but it seems only figures from the pop culture — Damon, Bono, Bob Geldorf — have had the generosity of spirit to give him props for it. When Bush visited Africa before he left office, he was greeted with great love — and not just for the AIDS program but for the anti-malaria help too. The press, meanwhile, barely covered that trip.

He made a lot of mistakes as president (what president doesn’t make some doozies, press-covered and press-ignored?) but he got some stuff right, too. Africa was one of them; he not only helped people with AIDS but brought assistance and attention to the malaria problem. So was his scholarship program in DC, toward which the present, teachers-union-beholden administration is not amenable.

Bush’s commitment to Africa has not ended with his presidency, by the way. Here he is talking last December about Africa’s potential:

I did this interview with President Bush about Africa, where he traveled earlier this month to promote a new Red Ribbon Pink Ribbon campaign to stave off cervical and breast cancers. The campaign follows up the PEPFAR initiative he launched as president to fight AIDS and other diseases in Africa and elsewhere . . . Here’s an excerpt from my question to him about how he sees Africa developing:

“They’ve got enormous problems, of course. For example, when Africa modernizes its agricultural sector, the continent would be better off. And right now there’s a lot of subsistence farming. But some of (Africa’s) enlightened leaders are beginning to understand the great potential of agriculture. It makes no sense for sub-Saharan Africa to not be food exporters and not be completely self-sufficient.

“I’ve always believed in the potential of Africa, but I also see some of the roadblocks, some of which were (a product of) corruption and the unwillingness of governments to invest in the health and welfare of their people. Or not adhering to the markets.”

The writer, William McKenzie notes:

Bono said in this Time interview that Africa’s population is supposed to hit 2 billion by 2050, while China is expected to be around 1.3 billion. If those numbers hold up, and if Africa continues to grow economically (it is on par with East Asia, says The Economist,), then we’re talking about huge markets for American companies to trade with in the future.

I am not an African expert, by any stretch. But it’s worth thinking about the potential the continent holds. As Bush said, “Trade, markets and commerce with Africa are in our national interest.”

By the way, the Atlantic interview with Damon chronicles his own deep commitment to clean water initiatives, and that’s worth reading. In the January issue of ONE magazine, (of which our own Deacon Greg Kandra is Executive Editor) there is a terrific piece about how the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (a papal agency for humanitarian and pastoral support), has restored a dwindling water supply for people in Lebanon, by constructing 13.2 million-gallon capacity reservoir.

It’s a great piece, so check it out. ONE is a terrific publication — award winning writers and fabulous photograph!

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Waynester

    I can easily imagine Bush responding with his characteristic chuckle and “I appreciate the sentiment but a handshake will do just fine”

  • dry valleys

    Yes, foreign aid is immensely useful. I can’t believe some people actually want to abolish it. Some of what is spent is probably wasteful or inefficient, but if the government identify such problems they should divert spending towards more useful projects rather than turn off the taps or try “arguing” that it’s no concern of ours.

    Philanthropy is good but never enough. I will credit Bush (and, bizarrely, David Camoron) if they acknowledge this. I will put the usual controversies aside because those who have littlle are natural allies to those who have nothing at all.

    Out of interest, what is your view of Fair Trade? I have heard some neoliberals speak against it, but I found their arguments as unimpressive as everything else they say. We should try to buy homegrown food but obviously if we are going to have cocoa, tropical fruit etc. it needs to be imported and the farmers should live in good conditions. Only thus will they get any real chance to improve their own station in life. I have heard about people who work far harder than anyone in the west will, yet for lack of a few simple technologies their efforts are in vein.

  • Manny

    God bless Pres GW Bush. Of all the presidents in my life time, I can identify with him the most. And though I probably would prefer Reagan as the greatest of my life time, GWB’s compassionate conservatism struck a chord with me. He really had a good Christian heart.

  • Captain_Dg

    Since Matt Damon is getting some love today, I’d like to go OT for just a second and say what a wonderful job he did narrating PBS’s tribute to Fenway Park. It was great all around but I learned as well how pervasive and damaging segregation was to the Red Sox. While I knew they were late to integrate I did not know how long it took the team and how it affected every aspect of the club from peanut vendors to janitors to secretaries. Don’t always agree with the guy but in that one segment of the documentary, told quite plainly he really brought home segregation’s pain and price.

  • Joseph

    Good for Matt. W should have won a Nobel Peace Prize for his (our) aid to Africa. Instead, Obama got the award for, well, for being Obama.

  • Manny

    “W should have won a Nobel Peace Prize for his (our) aid to Africa.”

    Great point Joseph. He should have and what a joke that Obama received it.