I don't mean to pick on Elton John. He's certainly shown greater political tolerance than some of his fellow Hollywood mega-stars--whether playing Rush Limbaugh's wedding or colliding with Eminem at the Grammys. Yet his comments in an interview about his new book with National Public Radio this week reveal the essence of what is wrong with the Hollywood left-wing mindset: wealthy stars want the government, and taxpayers, to support their favorite causes, but often aren't prepared to give of their own time or money to do the same.
The issue, in this case, is funding for HIV/AIDS organizations, which was cut by Florida governor Rick Scott. John wrote to the governor's office in protest, and NPR Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep asked John to tell his side of the exchange:
INSKEEP: One other thing I want to ask about: You - in this book, in addition to talking about how Ryan White affected your life, how your attitude toward AIDS changed, how you became an activist; you argue pretty strongly against politicians today, American politicians today. You even talk about a - maybe a run-in is too strong a word - but an exchange of notes that you had with Rick Scott, the governor of Florida. What got you involved there?
JOHN: We're an AIDS organization. And whenever anybody's funding is cut - and it's usually cut, especially in this case in Florida, for the people that can afford it least, to have their funding cut - then we're going to write a letter about it. And we wrote a letter to the governor himself. We have to pay attention to things like that. We can't take our eye off the ball.
INSKEEP: In this particular case, you got a letter back from the governor's surgeon general, saying: Well, maybe you should play a benefit concert, or a series of concerts, to raise money for the program.
JOHN: Yeah, it's not my job to do that. It's the government's priority to do that. I can't do benefit concerts for Florida, for the people with AIDS in Florida. It's their responsibility. They need to, you know, do what's right. And cutting funding for the people that least afford it, is criminal.
INSKEEP: Well, let me ask the fundamental question that gets asked about issues like this, in the United States now: What is it that makes AIDS a matter of fundamental public concern; that it is the business of the government, as opposed to anybody else, to deal with it?
JOHN: Because we can solve this AIDS problem forever if the government gives the funding. If people are encouraged to come out and say they're HIV-positive and they're given their treatments, then obviously, the people who are marginalized - like intravenous drug users, prisoners, people are made to feel less-than - if they're given the support of the government, and they're given the funding, then it's going to help solve the spread of AIDS and HIV in America. We have to try and get rid of this shortsightedness when it comes to HIV and the stigma around it.
John's answer that because HIV/AIDS is an important issue to people who are marginalized, therefore government--and taxpayers--must pay to address it, as opposed to wealthy celebrities, is hardly convincing. In John's case, it is hard to accuse him of hypocrisy--he has started his own HIV/AIDS foundation, after all--but rather a misguided idea about what the role of government is. It is not there to solve all problems, and could not solve them even if it tried. It certainly ought not use coercive force, through taxation, to address a problem that, for many people, originates in choice. The stigma attached to HIV/Aids is also a social phenomenon that might even be made worse if victims of the disease are seen as government dependents.
No one expects John to invent the cure for HIV. But he could, quite easily, play--or organize--benefits to raise the money necessary to make up whatever shortfalls exist in an era of tightening budgets. The idea that "it's not my job to do that. It's the government's priority to do that," is one that Americans cannot afford--especially when preached by those who certainly can afford to do more.