Saddleback Civil Forum on Global Health

December 01, 2008

By John Maynard, Newseum Exhibits Writer

President George W. Bush visited the Newseum for the first time today for an interview with Saddleback Church founder and author Rick Warren about the president’s efforts to fight HIV/AIDS throughout the globe.

Warren presented Bush with the inaugural "International Medal of Peace," given on behalf of the Global Peace Coalition of churches, businesses and individuals working to solve humanitarian issues.

"No world leader has ever done more for global health than President George W. Bush," Warren said during the two-hour Saddleback Civil Forum on Global Health.

Warren, best-selling author of The Purpose Driven Life, praised the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which has provided nearly $19 billion to combat HIV/AIDS. "It’s the most underrated and misunderstood program of this administration," Warren said.

Bush said that the PEPFAR program had met its goal to treat 2 million people with antiretroviral drugs several months ahead of schedule.

"It’s in our moral interest," Bush said. "We’re a better nation when we save lives."

Bush, who was later joined onstage by first lady Laura Bush, struck a spiritual tone at times. "I believe in this admonition, this principle: To whom much is given, much is required."

Newseum CEO Charles Overby welcomed forum attendees and noted the significance of the event. "In the seven months since we’ve opened, we have never closed down the 4-D theater for a private event," Overby said, referring to the Newseum’s Annenberg Theater, which shows a 13-minute time-travel experience for visitors. "It’s like Disney World closing its Space Mountain ride."

Several video tributes were played prior to the president’s arrival from British Prime Minister Tony Blair, United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki-moon, Rwanda President Paul Kagame and Bill and Melinda Gates, who spoke on behalf of their foundation.

U2 lead singer and humanitarian activist Bono — a frequent visitor to Washington — added some levity in his videotaped remarks. "Hello, my name is Bono," he said. "I’m your friendly neighborhood rock star and I run the capital."

The program ended with taped remarks from President-elect Barack Obama, who saluted Bush "for his leadership in crafting a plan for AIDS relief in Africa" and vowed to "continue this critical work to address the crisis around the world."

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