AS SOON as Earvin "Magic" Johnson made the remarkable and courageous admission that he was infected with the deadly AIDS virus, George Bush responded from Europe with grace and compassion. Magic was a "hero," the president said.
One has to wonder whether the president really comprehended what Magic said? Is he perhaps having hearing problems? Could he be worried about the upset in Pennsylvania, the bad economy, missing out on the Asia trip?
For Magic's point was that he was going to dedicate the remainder of his life, whatever that now may be, to educating people about "safe sex," using condoms, and in effect controlling both health and reproductivity by a rare application of common sense.
But, George Bush, in an application of political nonsense, is stopping all of those crucial steps in the world today.
This is the man who once actively championed birth control. This is the man who has supported cutting off funds for family planning in U.N. programs -- and who now threatens to veto the whole AID budget if family planning funds are included.
But George Bush is not alone. Just before Magic Johnson's tragic announcement, Pope John Paul II was in Brazil, where tens of thousands of abandoned children now roam the streets and where the economy is on the verge of collapse -- and what did he focus most on condemning? The government's birth control posters and promotions!
So, we have here an interesting case where two of the most powerful men in the world -- men infinitely admirable in other areas -- are helping to bring the world to a population Armageddon, and where a basketball player of good will brings a message of rationality, of responsibility and of "sane sex" as well as "safe sex."
Here are some common examples of where we are heading in population, and one hopes that at least George Bush will read them:
* Take Africa. In the 1950s and '60s, Africa's population growth rate was about half a percentage point lower than that of Latin America; today, it is almost a percentage point higher. The only continent where population still is growing at the high annual rate of 3.3 percent, Africa's estimated population of 872 million in is projected to increase to 1.6 billion by the year 2025, according to the Population Reference Bureau.
* In Central America, the population is not just doubling or tripling; it is rising sevenfold. The Central American countries had 4 million children in 1950, 8 million in 1970, 13 million today, and a projected 19 million by 2025.
As world population specialist Robert W. Fox, formerly of the Organization of American States and the Inter-American Bank, puts it, "This is Central America's most significant historical event, overriding in importance the Spanish Conquest and the independence movement 270 years later."
We might as well forget all the bitter fighting in Central America and all the real hopes for reform and for change, because population growth is going to wipe out every hope and encourage even worse new wars. Sheer availability of cheap human life tends to do that.
The president made a 180-degree turn on family planning when he felt forced to take up the cause of the ultra-right. The pope reminds us again (unfortunately) that he sits, after all, in the chair of Pope Urban VIII, who in 1633 found his former friend Galileo guilty of teaching that the Earth revolves around the sun.
What these two men ought to have the courage to see is that what is done in the next decade may actually save -- or doom -- the Earth that sustains us. Population control is not peripheral to vTC the life or death of the human race today. It is central -- just as it has been in every single country or area that has prospered, from the Western Europe of yesterday to the South Korea, Japan and Taiwan of today.
In a world of 5.4 billion people, with current growth rates expected to double in 40 years, the positions of these two powerful men can no longer be excused as just one way of looking at things. The real hero in 1633 was Galileo; the real hero today is Magic Johnson. At least the president got that right.
Georie Anne Geyer writes a syndicated column on world affairs.