The Constant Charmer By JOSH TYRANGIEL Monday, Dec. 19, 2005
The inside story of how the world's biggest rock star mastered the political game and persuaded the world's leaders to take on global poverty. And he's not done yet.
The G-8 Summit is an annual gathering of the world's most powerful people at which two things are always accomplished: an awkward group photo is taken and no one has any fun. On the July night that this year's summit began in Gleneagles, Scotland, Bono thought it might be nice to change things up a bit. U2 had scheduled a concert at a stadium in nearby Edinburgh, and Bono, as is his custom, invited pretty much everyone he thought would be interesting to drop by, which explains how George Clooney, Hollywood's leading lefty, and Paul Wolfowitz, president of the World Bank and an architect of the Iraq war, ended up in the same room backstage. "It could have been a little uncomfortable," says Clooney. "In fact, I was kind of expecting it to be."
A few minutes before U2 was due to perform, Bono strolled in and plopped himself down--not on the couch or near it but on top of it, like a household pet. Then he began talking about the one interest that Clooney, Wolfowitz and almost everyone else who had come to Scotland that day had in common: persuading developed nations to help lift 1 billion people out of extreme poverty. Bono's precise words on the subject are lost to history. "I couldn't stop looking at him," says Clooney. "He's so affectless. You felt like you're in the living room with your buddy who just happens to be a global rock star and has the world's best interests at heart." Says Wolfowitz: "Pomposity and arrogance are the enemies of getting things done. And Bono knows how to get things done."
Those kinds of pleasant collisions happen a lot when Bono is around. Ashley Judd mixes in the greenroom at a U2 show with Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway scooter and an aborning machine that makes even the filthiest water drinkable. Bill Gates goes to a nightclub, gets called a "bad mother______" by Diddy and understands that it is intended as a compliment. Of course, if Bono were to rely solely on his ability to get powerful people in a room with famous people and then hit them with a speech about moral obligations, he would be little more than(不過是) the lead singer in the war on global poverty--a nice title but limited in its power. "If you really want to be effective, you have to bring something to the table beyond just charisma," says Rick Santorum, a conservative Republican Senator from Pennsylvania. "The important thing is, Bono understands his issues better than 99% of members of Congress."
Knowing the facts is crucial--"Everybody hates a dilettante," says Bono--but so is knowing your audience. When he lunches with President Bush, as he did most recently in October, Bono quotes Scripture and talks about small projects in Africa that have specific metrics for success. Then he asks for more money to fund them. In the office of Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, he speaks of multilateralism and how development aid reminds the rest of the world of America's greatness. Then he asks for more money. In stadiums, he tells people that if they join together, they have a chance to make poverty history. Then U2 plays One.
Bono's great gift is to take what has made him famous--charm, clarity of voice, an ability to touch people in their secret heart--combine those traits with a keen grasp of the political game and obsessive attention to detail, and channel it all toward getting everyone, from world leaders to music lovers, to engage with something overwhelming in its complexity. Although it's tempting for some to cast his global road show as the vanity project of a pampered celebrity, the fact is that Bono gets results. At Gleneagles--where Bono and his policy-and-advocacy body, DATA, met with five of the eight heads of state at the summit--the G-8 approved an unprecedented $50 billion aid package--including $25 billion for Africa--and pledged near universal access to antiretroviral drugs for almost 10 million impoverished people with HIV.
Bono technically didn't achieve any of those things on his own, "but it's hard to imagine much of it would have been done without him," says Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin. Although politicians, academics and activists continue to differ over the best way to tackle poverty and disease in the developing world, Bono's contribution has been to forge, over the past decade, a surprisingly durable consensus on the need to do something. "The only thing that balances how preposterous it is to have to listen to an Irish rock star talk about these subjects," says Bono, "is the weight of the subjects themselves."
Ballast is not an attribute commonly attributed to pop stars. Bono, 45, spends his evenings lifting people to their feet, but offstage, he can be almost aggressively grounded. One morning a few days before the 25th anniversary of John Lennon's death, Bono stands on the balcony of his New York City apartment overlooking Central Park. "You know what my least favorite John Lennon song is?" he says. "Imagine. At the root of it is some rigorous thinking about the way things could be, but people have stolen the idea and made it an anthem for wishful thinking. I'm against wishful thinking. I hate it."
Bono is prone to large pronouncements, but a significant part of his charisma stems from the fact that it isn't intimidating. There are rock stars who enter a room with the kind of sex display the Discovery Channel saves for sweeps weeks, but Bono is not one of them. He's handsome but short--5 ft. 7 in. in thick-soled shoes--and swings his arms wide when he walks, so he looks open and soft, like a pillow in a cowboy hat. It's not at all what people expect, and it sets them at ease.
Today, with U2 in town for a show at Madison Square Garden, Bono has the rare treat of staying in one of his homes, a three-story penthouse he purchased from Steve Jobs. (He also has places in Dublin and the south of France.) He lounges beneath a giant Christo drawing of The Gates (not Bill and Melinda but the Central Park installation), surrounded by art books. It's a lovely day to do nothing, but that's not really an option."I get very little time entirely alone," he says, moments before six people appear in the living room with videoconferencing equipment to discuss a soon-to-be-announced consumer campaign for African development. Tom Lantos, a Democratic Representative from California, swings by with his granddaughter. Bono and Lantos are close enough that the Congressman, a Holocaust survivor, has encouraged Bono to reference worldwide indifference to the genocide when describing governments' apathetic response to the spread of AIDS across Africa. "I am very sensitive to people abusing the analogy," says Lantos. "He's convinced me it's legitimate."
More than two decades since Bono entered the world stage as a mullet-haired front man, he commands attention like no other cultural figure alive. When he visits Capitol Hill, his movement through the halls is split-timed. His lobbyists feed him tips so he knows, for instance, that Kentucky's Mitch McConnell has a thing for Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who inspired U2's song Walk On. The rest is intuitive. Bono arrives with no security, takes gifts (a leather-bound volume of Seamus Heaney for Patrick Leahy, a framed copy of the Marshall Plan speech for Colin Powell) to suit his host's taste. He poses for every staff picture, and his thank-you notes are handwritten and prompt. He wears whatever he pleases. "I refuse to be anything other than what I am," he says. "I literally get into the clothes at the end of the bed. If somebody doesn't take them off and wash them, things would probably get a bit high."
Twenty years ago, the notion of Bono as a political player was almost unimaginable. In 1985, U2 played Live Aid, the Bob Geldof-- organized concert for African famine relief. At the time, it was hailed as a massive success, and in the sense that it got people to briefly engage with another part of the world while watching Tina Turner dance with Mick Jagger, it was. After the concert, Bono and his wife Ali Hewson spent six weeks working at an orphanage in Wello, Ethiopia. The weight of famine, war and corruption--as well as the resentment many capable Africans feel toward uninformed foreigners with messiah complexes--overwhelmed him. As did the foolishness of thinking a day of singing was enough. But U2 was on its way to becoming the biggest band in the world, and Bono stuffed a deeper engagement with Africa into the warehouse of good intentions.
Then in 1997 he received a brief from a development advocate, Jamie Drummond, that pointed out that although Live Aid raised $200 million, Ethiopia alone paid $500 million in annual debt service to the world's lending institutions. After contacting Drummond, Bono signed on as a spokesman for Jubilee 2000, a church-based campaign born in England that asked governments to use the millennium as an occasion to cancel Third World debt. Bono, who spends most of his nontouring time in Dublin with Hewson and their four children, started flying to Washington for weekends at the World Bank with his friend Bobby Shriver, a son of Eunice and Sargent Shriver. Eventually, Bono's education was taken over by economist Jeffrey Sachs. After Bono's understanding of the issue went from fluency to mastery, he started speaking out, lobbying Bill Clinton's Administration to make debt relief a core aim of U.S. policy toward the developing world. It worked: midway through his presidency, Clinton agreed to erase $6 billion in debt.
Bono was very pleased with himself until he learned that he hadn't actually accomplished anything. Congress hadn't signed off. "When I first arrived in Washington," says Bono, "I asked, Who's Elvis here? Who do I have to speak to to change the world? Then I find out that even though the President says yes and even though he speaks with a twang, he's not Elvis. Congress is Elvis in America. No, Congress is Colonel Parker."
Through Shriver's brother-in-law Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bono met Ohio Republican John Kasich, a fiscal conservative known for his love of jam bands. "Our first rabbi on the right" is how Bono describes Kasich. Still, it took dozens of visits to the Hill for Bono to gain influence. At first, even Democrats wouldn't clear their schedules. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi offered some time while she waited for a flight at the mordantly depressing Dulles Airport. "In a short period, I saw a depth of knowledge that was hugely impressive and a depth of commitment to match," says Pelosi. "I mean, he came to Dulles." Republicans tended to be more skeptical, so Bono courted their staff members, most of whom were his age or younger and had grown up loving U2. "Washington is very hierarchical," he says. "It's all principal-to-principal meetings, but I'm from rock 'n' roll. If I want to have a drink with someone, they sound interesting, they're fun, I'm going to have a drink."
At that point, Bono was relying on an improvised staff of Drummond and Lucy Matthew, another Brit from the nonprofit world, who would meet him wherever U2 was playing and open a policy desk at the local Kinko's. "He told us he was in this cause for life," says Matthew, "and it was time to become a real organization." Bob Geldof, one of Bono's closest friends, came up with the name DATA, a double acronym meant to position the group as a nexus between the nonprofit development world (debt, AIDS, trade, Africa) and the results-oriented political world (democracy, accountability, transparency in Africa.) The name was also directed inward: no wishful thinking, just facts in all their nasty complexity.
To ensure that DATA was divorced from the stigma of vanity, Bono refused to bankroll it. After coaxing $1 million grants out of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, George Soros and software businessman Ed Scott, DATA got real office space and hired lobbyists--Tom Sheridan, a Democrat who had been a star of the domestic AIDS lobby, and Scott Hatch, a former Tom DeLay aide who ran the National Republican Campaign Committee. DATA employees churned out policy papers, while Hatch, Sheridan and Shriver organized intimate, bipartisan dinner parties (sample guest list: Senators Jesse Helms, Patrick Leahy and Orrin Hatch; former World Bank president Jim Wolfensohn; Clinton Treasury Secretary Larry Summers) to cement relationships and encourage the sense that at least on one issue, everyone could break bread. Spouses were invited, and to spice things up, Bono might ask a friend from another sphere, like Jordan's Queen Noor, to drop by. "Your first responsibility is not to be dull," he says. "Why don't the poor deserve flash in their representation?"
All that helped prepare Bono for the most daunting challenge to his powers of persuasion: the Administration of George W. Bush. When Bush took office in 2001, development groups presumed that debt, AIDS and trade for Africa would be at the bottom of his agenda, largely because Bush said they would be. But Bono had forged too many productive odd pairings to simply give up. And as it turned out, a few White House doors were already open.
"The key to some extent is faith," says Mike Gerson, the President's assistant for policy and strategic planning. Gerson and Budget Director Josh Bolten are evangelical Christians who believe there's a biblical imperative to help the world's poor. Along with then National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, they opened a dialogue with Bono and ultimately persuaded Bush to meet him. "I took my boys, 8 and 10, to their first rock concert--U2 here in Washington," says Gerson. "We met Bono beforehand, and he says, 'I'm so honored that you would pick me for your first concert. I'm a little hoarse tonight. I need you to do me a favor. If you hear my voice going out, I want you to pray for me.' He's just obviously a good guy."
Born to a Protestant mother and a Catholic father, Bono describes his faith as "promiscuous." He quotes Scripture and counts meetings with Pope John Paul II and Billy Graham among the most significant of his life. "I try to live it rather than talk about it because there are enough secondhand-car salesmen for God," he says. "But I cannot escape my conviction that God is interested in the progress of mankind, individually and collectively."
Even as he softened Bush by appealing to his religiosity, Bono also began to talk about debt relief and poverty eradication in hardheaded, national-interest terms. After 9/11, DATA seized the opportunity to lobby for new policy. Africa is 40% Muslim, and Tom Hart, DATA's director of government relations, argued that it might be nice to make some friends there. When the Administration said money was tight, the policy experts scoured the NGO world and came back touting small programs with clear ways to measure progress. When the issue of corruption was raised, DATA proposed a scheme to nurture good governance. ("Start-up funds for new democracies, sir," was how Bono pitched it to the President.) In its relentlessness and flexibility, DATA had assumed the personality of its founder.
Bono's network of contacts didn't hurt either. In 2003, when President Bush visited an AIDS clinic in Entebbe, Uganda, he was welcomed by a children's choir singing America the Beautiful. Then a woman named Agnes Nyamayarwo told the story of how she was unknowingly infected with HIV and passed the virus on to her son during his birth. AIDS drugs cost $40 a month in Uganda, but the government spends just $7 per person per year on health care; Nyamayarwo, a nurse, could not afford to keep her son alive. When she finished speaking, Bush embraced her. Nyamayarwo, it turns out, has been close friends with Bono since they met several years ago. Says Bono: "We've got people jumping out of the bushes at the Bushes!"
With advocates on the inside and in Congress, and not-so-gentle prodding elsewhere, the Bush Administration in 2003 launched the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). In two years, PEPFAR has paid for antiretroviral drugs for 400,000 Africans with HIV, while the MCC aims to dispense foreign aid by rewarding countries for being accountable. Bono stood by the President when he unveiled the MCC, and complained loudly when he thought it was underfunded. (Soon after, MCC administrator Paul Applegarth was replaced; DATA swears it played no role.) "These are more than baby steps," says Bono, "but to get them to be strides we need more than applause or hisses from me. We need a movement."
One of the ways to spark a movement?is to create a defining moment. "We've been doing this now for a few years--pretending this is the one, this is the leap. And in fact, this year was the one. We've had 2005 in mind for quite a while," he says. As early as 2003, Bono and others had picked out a number of unrelated political events--a G-8 meeting that was to have as hosts British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown (dubbed by Bono the "John and Paul of global development"), a meeting of the World Trade Organization, a U.N. summit to review progress toward the Millennium Development Goals--all relevant to lifting people out of poverty. But they needed to be tied together and pitched as potentially world changing. "Politicians are performers of a kind, but they're not great at dramatizing a situation," says Bono. "These issues need tension, jeopardy and a sense of what-might-be to succeed. All of that is much more from our language than from theirs."
What followed was a tour de force of syndicalism. Several NGOs in the habitually backbiting development community put aside their differences and launched integrated awareness campaigns (Make Poverty History in Britain, the ONE Campaign in the U.S.) aimed at educating people about global poverty and registering millions of supporters online. Blair announced a G-8 agenda with a goal of getting $50 billion in aid and 100% debt cancellation, and DATA lobbied the White House to be an active partner, reminding it that Blair had stood by the Administration in the past. To their surprise, they didn't have to do much pitching. Over beers with some friends from the Treasury Department, Drummond, Hart and policy director Erin Thornton actually heard the words "So, tell us why can't we do 100% debt cancellation?" Debt had been presumed a dead issue--"but all of a sudden these guys are telling us they think they've figured it out," says Hart. "We'd completely flipped roles. Very weird." There were details to iron out, and the Treasury guys insisted Bono not be told for a while (he is a poor secret keeper), but willingness proved 95% of the battle.
To cap it off, the G-8 would fall almost precisely on the 20th anniversary of Live Aid, and Bono wanted a concert to prove how far the movement had come. Bob Geldof "didn't want to repeat himself," says Bono, but six weeks before the summit he hit upon the idea of staging free concerts in each G-8 country. After a frenzy of persuasion, cities were lined up, sponsors found and bands, many of which already had concerts scheduled for the day, were persuaded to divert from their itineraries and play for free. "Charm, handsomeness and the fact that [Bono] wrote Where the Streets Have No Name goes you a long way," says Coldplay's Chris Martin, one of the headliners in London's Hyde Park.
Bono, meanwhile, launched a final burst of back-room politicking, greasing countless surreal encounters with people who had no business being in the same room together. Days before the summit, he visited 10 Downing Street and learned that the G-8's civil-servant negotiators, or "sherpas," who put deals into precise language, were feuding over how to pay for the proposed $50 billion aid package. "We were having a beer," Blair told TIME, "and just decided we would talk to these people who'd done an incred