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02-03.96/UP FRONT

Bobbing with Bill

A one-act power play

By Bob Lederer

"I don't want you to disrupt the Conference."

That's what POZ Publisher Sean Strub told me the day the White House issued my press credential for the President's December 6 AIDS extravaganza. I told him -- sincerely -- that I'd respect his wishes. I honestly thought I'd play out my shrill-voice role at the outdoor community demo.

But when I got into the warm, ornate Cash Room at the Treasury Department -- along with 250 well-paid bureaucrats, scientists and AIDS professionals -- my resolve was sorely tested. Clinton announced meaningless "bold initiatives" (new study panels) and nine "community leaders" dialogued with him oh-so-politely. I waited in vain for someone to say the Emperor had no clothes.

Meanwhile, out in the cold -- literally and figuratively -- a ragtag army of 200 activists (the majority PWAs of color on Medicaid) marched for hours demanding life-saving actions. Inspired by their strength and courage, I decided I had to act.

As Clinton closed the event promising "systematic follow-up," I called out, adrenalin pumping, "Why haven't you done systematic follow-up on the recommendations of two Presidential AIDS commissions? Why has it taken you three years to hold a conference and call for more recommendations?"

Clinton declared my questions "unseemly" because he had adopted "most" of the commissions' proposals (actually, just a handful). I cited needle exchange as the most urgent of the actions he could take, and demanded answers. But Clinton skillfully pulled the sympathy ploy. "I am very sorry there's not a cure...I will never be satisfied, and you won't and you shouldn't be, until we have solved the problem...But I think this has been a good meeting."

Good for what? I wondered, amid a sudden standing ovation. Re-election?