On Reagan’s ‘shameful abdication of leadership in the fight against AIDS’

Today would have been Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday. All of official DC (The Villagers), GOPers and right-wingers in general are rewriting the history of Reagan’s presidency. Check out Mike Stark’s conversation with Limbaugh.

There are many, many stains on that legacy. AIDS is one of them. When Reagan died in 2004, this op-ed appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle:

As America remembers the life of Ronald Reagan, it must never forget his shameful abdication of leadership in the fight against AIDS. History may ultimately judge his presidency by the thousands who have and will die of AIDS.

Following discovery of the first cases in 1981, it soon became clear a national health crisis was developing. But President Reagan’s response was “halting and ineffective,” according to his biographer Lou Cannon. Those infected initially with this mysterious disease — all gay men — found themselves targeted with an unprecedented level of mean-spirited hostility.

A significant source of Reagan’s support came from the newly identified religious right and the Moral Majority, a political-action group founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell. AIDS became the tool, and gay men the target, for the politics of fear, hate and discrimination. Falwell said “AIDS is the wrath of God upon homosexuals.” Reagan’s communications director Pat Buchanan argued that AIDS is “nature’s revenge on gay men.”

With each passing month, death and suffering increased at a frightening rate. Scientists, researchers and health care professionals at every level expressed the need for funding. The response of the Reagan administration was indifference.

Indifference lead to death. Remember the slogan: Silence = Death. It did.

Michael Bedwell also reminds us of that major stain on Reagan’s legacy. He pointed me to an article from the Washington Post on June 2, 1987 (also available at the Post’s archives):

D.C. police wearing long yellow rubber gloves arrested 64 demonstrators after the group blocked traffic on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House to protest the Reagan administration’s AIDS policies. The administration’s policies were also the focus of protests at the Washington Hilton hotel, where more than 6,000 researchers have gathered for the Third International Conference on AIDS.

Among those arrested was Leonard P. Matlovich, a former Air Force sergeant who was expelled from the service in 1975 after admitting his homosexuality. Matlovich, who recently learned he has AIDS, wore his old Air Force jacket decorated with a Purple Heart and Bronze Star and clutched a small American flag as police handcuffed him.

Indifference and silence. Death. Quite a legacy.


On October 27, 2010, Joe was one of five bloggers who interviewed President Obama. Joe is a DC-based political consultant with over twenty-five years of experience at both the state and federal level. Joe has managed political operations and legislative efforts for both candidates and issues-based organizations. For seven years, he was the Director of State Legislation at Handgun Control, Inc. He served as that organization's first Political Director during the 2000 cycle. Joe is a graduate of the University of Maine School of Law. In addition, he has a Masters in Public Administration from Lehigh University and received his B.A. from the University of New Hampshire. Joe also has a fun dog, Petey, a worthy successor to Boomer, who got Joe through eight years of Bush and Cheney. Joe likes to think he is a world class athlete having finished the 2005 Chicago Marathon in the time of 4:10. He has completed six other marathons as well -- and is still determined to break the four hour mark.

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