I like Andrew Sullivan - I think he's interesting, insightful, and for the most part, level-headed. But I also think he's somewhat of an opportunist, and suffers from being totally unaware of the benefits he reaps from his upper-class and Oxford-educated social standing, and doesn't understand why everyone doesn't have all the same opportunities and privileges that he does. He's the first to say that gays should have the right to live like everybody else, but that poor people don't deserve health insurance - in other words, a libertarian.
A few days ago, I linked to the Seattle Stranger's Homo History issue, where one of the entries (that at the time I had not yet read) was by Andrew Sullivan. He wrote about the year 1996, in which, apparently, AIDS was no longer a problem, and the world should be in celebration over the "end of the plague."
There are so many things wrong with this on every level that I can't even really begin to dissect all of them. I've addressed this issue before, about whether or not the semantics of still calling AIDS a "plague" is really all that helpful, or just alarmist and overwrought at this point.
Where I think Sullivan's argument falls short from the libertarian perspective is because sure, for wealthy, white, privileged men who can afford the drug cocktails, which I know from personal experience, run into the thousands of dollars every month, maybe AIDS is just an unfortunate, but manageable, disease. But what about the poor, mostly black, inner city prostitutes, drug users, and just people who are unlucky enough to get stricken? Do you suppose they consider AIDS just a slight inconvenience? What about Africa? Or what about the regular middle-class families whose insurance fights tooth and nail against paying for these life-saving drugs, which, even if they work, can create complete havoc on your body?
I suppose the argument is that yes, AIDS is terrible, but it's still a "lifestyle" disease, like lung cancer, or diabetes, and if you happen to get it, well, too bad for you.
Today on his site, Sullivan whines about people picking on him for declaring "the end of AIDS" in 1996, but at least links to their arguments, which I find much more compelling than Sullivan's.
After describing how 1996 could, in fact, have been the beginning of a new, AIDS-free era, Sullivan's detractor goes on to say this:
In other words, for the rising generation of gay men, the AIDS epidemic could have ended, except for the occasional stray infection here and there.
But that's not what happened. The opposite happened.
As the meds came into use, people began celebrating. Opinion leaders -- most notably Andrew Sullivan -- recklessly proclaimed the "end of AIDS" in major venues like The New York Times. Mainstream journalists took their cue and largely dropped the subject.
Healthy fear -- the primary motivator of safe sex -- swiftly declined. Unsafe sex -- a vital part of the 'infectivity' leg of the Triad -- swiftly rose. Sex with multiple partners -- the 'contact rate' leg of the triad -- also rose. Sex clubs and bathhouses that allowed unsafe sex reopened without much controversy, or even notice. The Internet created a new venue for people to have multiple partners, often unsafely. 'Barebacking' became glamorized, even valorized, and the crystal meth epidemic vastly exacerbated the problem.
As the years went by, the truth became horribly clear: The increase in unsafe sex and the increase in the contact rate had swamped the drop in infectiousness due to the meds. Instead of ending, or even slowing, the AIDS epidemic among gay men has continued infecting between 2% and 3% of gay men per year. That's about the same level -- or even higher -- as before the meds were introduced.
I myself am operating largely on a hunch and my own experience, with both AIDS patients and AIDS drugs and federal benefits, and I need more research before I can become truly indignant. But honestly, this feels like a no-brainer, and Sullivan comes across as a truly heartless, self-absorbed, and just plain dumb, jackass.