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Reagan Legacy Of HIV/AIDS Inaction Killed 41k Americans

Here we go again.

Every four years, Republican Party dusts off its collection of Ronald Reagan political porn. They expect us to sit quietly by as their candidates take to the stump and frantically pleasure themselves in front of America. All in an effort to prove that they are the most like good old Ronnie.

If they don’t make the comparison themselves, there’s no shortage of supporters who are willing to try to do it for them.

While it’s true that Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980 and his re-election in 1984 were both landslides of epic proportions, it’s also true that the Reagan Administration is the most corrupt in the history of the American Presidency.

Michael Moore summarizes the disastrous Reagan Administration in 4 short minutes in his film “Capitalism: A Love Story.”

During his tenure in office, an unprecedented 138 Administration officials were investigated, indicted or convicted of crimes.

However, as a gay man, all of that pales in comparison to Ronald Reagan and his Administration’s shameful callous indifference and disgraceful inaction in the early days of the HIV/AIDS crisis.

Scientists at the CDC first identified the HIV virus in 1981, during Reagan’s first year in office. It wasn’t that Reagan was unaware of the situation. He deliberately chose to ignore it.

The first public evidence that the White House was made aware of the crisis, was at the White House daily press briefing on October 15, 1982, during which the following Q and A took place between acting White House Press Secretary Larry Speakes and Lester Kinsolving.

To them, it was all a big joke.

Q: Larry: does the President have any reaction to the announcement–the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, that AIDS is now an epidemic and have over 600 cases?
Q: Over a third of them have died. It’s known as “gay plague.” (Laughter.) No, it is. I mean it’s a pretty serious thing that one in every three people that get this have died. And I wondered if the President is aware of it?
MR. SPEAKES: I don’t have it. Do you? (Laughter.)
Q: No, I don’t.
MR. SPEAKES: You didn’t answer my question.
Q: Well, I just wondered, does the President–
MR. SPEAKES: How do you know? (Laughter.)
Q: In other words, the White House looks on this as a great joke? 

(Read the full transcript)

President Reagan didn’t publicly address the growing epidemic in a major speech until 1987 – a full SIX YEARS later. By that time, there were 50,378 reported cases of AIDS to date  and 40,849 Americans had died.

How could the President of The United States of America – regardless of party affiliation – allow this to happen, you ask?

In an exchange with the press prior to addressing the College of Physicians of Philadelphia on April 1, 1987 he told us:

I think that that particular subject should be taught in connection with values, not simply taught as a physical, mechanical process…

Reagan remained fully committed to his belief that ‘Government is the problem‘, even as tens of thousands of Americans were dying:

The Federal role must be to give educators accurate information about the disease. How that information is used must be up to schools and parents, not Government

Reagan Falwell Oval OfficeIt came as no surprise when Reagan,  who had long ago sold his soul to the extreme ‘christian’ right , gave us his true opinion opinion of the HIV/AIDS crisis:

But let’s be honest with ourselves. ‘AIDS information cannot be what some call ‘value neutral.’ After all, when it comes to preventing AIDS, don’t medicine and morality teach the same lessons?

That’s the quote Ronald Reagan should be remembered for. 

Instead, the Republican Party would have us idolize him as an American hero, and that he embodied his flowery rhetoric: 

I know in my heart that man is good, that what is right will always eventually triumph and there is purpose and worth to each and every life

So much for ‘compassionate conservatism’.

Unfortunately for America, Reagan’s real legacy is far removed from the idyllic “Shining City Upon A Hill” vision of America he painted in his farewell address.

But, I have too many friends and family members whose names adorn the 54 ton AIDS Quilt and who are living with the virus today to allow the Republican revisionists to erase the memory of the more than 57,000 American’s and their families. 

I do not mean to suggest that had Reagan acted humanely, the HIV/AIDS epidemic would have been avoided or that a cure would have been found in those early years.

There can be no doubt however, that Ronald Reagan’s disgraceful failure to act led to more deaths and infections than if he acted sooner to stem the rising epidemic.

AIDS Quilt

Rather than the ‘Shining City Upon A Hill’ he believed he left us, Ronald Reagan’s true legacy was a shameful memorial cemetery, stretched out upon Capital Hill.

I certainly hope that Ronald Reagan is enjoying a very warm reunion with Jerry Falwell.

If you agree and want to help me correct the history books, please share this post with all your friends and followers. I also welcome discussion in the comments below.

Cross posted in our Daily Kos Diary.

(image credits: University of Washington;Reagan Presidential Library; Tumblr)

About Michael Brewer

Michael Brewer earned his degree in Political Science from the University of Pittsburgh but learned to love politics from working on local campaigns and LGBT Equality activism. He is a full time small business owner and part time Blogger. His most recent venture is The Liberal Brew - A Progressively Liberal news and opinion blog devoted to equality for all, returning sanity to our political discourse and restoring reason in America.

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