President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry failed to address the domestic AIDS epidemic in any of their three televised presidential debates, which wrapped up Wednesday night. Although half of the second debate, held on October 8, and all of Wednesday's debate focused on domestic issues, neither candidate spoke about AIDS during several broader questions about health care. Bush and Kerry were asked several questions about health care costs, health insurance, and other related issues during the debate but failed to mention AIDS in their responses.
"For a debate that focused at times on the alarming lack of access or late access to health care in this country and the high cost of drugs, we at AIDS Project Los Angeles are tremendously disappointed that last night's debate did not feature a single mention of domestic AIDS," Craig E. Thompson, executive director of AIDS Project Los Angeles, told Advocate.com on Thursday. "For those of us who have been fighting the AIDS epidemic for over 20 years, watching these debates has been deeply disturbing. This year alone, there will be 40,000 new HIV infections nationally. Nearly 1 million Americans are estimated to be living with the AIDS virus. It is a sobering reflection of our national priorities that our political leaders are not talking about the scope of the AIDS epidemic in the United States."
Vice presidential candidates Republican Dick Cheney and Democrat John Edwards also missed a key opportunity to talk about U.S. domestic AIDS policies during their debate on October 5, responding to a question about the impact of AIDS on African-American women by instead talking about the global AIDS crisis. Debate moderator Gwen Ifill, a PBS news correspondent, asked Vice President Cheney to comment on the government's role in fighting the domestic AIDS epidemic, noting that "black women between the ages of 25 and 44 are 13 times more likely to die of the disease than their [white] counterparts." She asked the candidates to specifically talk about AIDS at home, not in "China or Africa."
Cheney responded by admitting he was unaware that HIV disproportionately affects African-American women, called AIDS in America and abroad a "great tragedy," and then proceeded to talk about the Administration's five-year, $15 billion President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief that focuses on AIDS efforts in 12 developing countries.
In his rebuttal Edwards also avoided talking about domestic AIDS issues, focusing on the impact of the disease in Africa and Russia and noting that Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry would double PEPFAR spending to $30 billion over five years. Edwards then turned the issue to the broader health care problem in the United States, saying that children and adults don't have adequate access to preventive care services.