Though she sent out a tweet in which she apologized, why did Hillary Clinton praise Nancy Reagan for her “advocacy” on the AIDS crisis in the 1980s — when the record shows that Reagan’s husband, then-President Ronald Reagan, did nearly nothing about AIDS for the first six years of the crisis, and his first lady took the same approach?
That’s what Democrats who support Clinton were wondering early on Friday, after Clinton left them stunned by making the bizarre statements in an MSNBC interview shortly after attending the funeral of Nancy Reagan, who was First Lady of the United States from 1981 to January of 1989.
Hillary Clinton: The Reagans, particularly Nancy, helped start “a national conversation” about HIV and AIDS. https://t.co/7sZp8X53fb
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) March 11, 2016
“It may be hard for your viewers to remember how difficult it was for people to talk about HIV/AIDS back in the 1980s. And because of both President Reagan and Mrs. Reagan, in particular Mrs. Reagan, we started a national conversation, when before nobody would talk about it, nobody wanted to do anything about it,” the Democratic presidential frontrunner said from the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, site of the Nancy Reagan funeral on March 11.
Clinton went on to speak approvingly of what she called Nancy Reagan’s “very effective, low-key advocacy” on the AIDS issue in the 1980s — when data shows that approximately 40,000 Americans had died of the disease before Ronald Reagan gave his first public speech on the crisis in 1987.
In fact, from the beginning, the Reagan administration’s attitude toward the deadly epidemic was less than serious, even invoking laughter and macabre jokes in press briefings given by White House spokesperson Larry Speakes, as documented in the below video put together by Vanity Fair magazine.
But on Friday, Hillary Clinton said that she “really appreciated” Nancy Reagan for her AIDS “advocacy,” adding the mystifying claim that Nancy Reagan “penetrated the public conscience” with regard to AIDS.
“It’s hard to imagine where Clinton got this ludicrous idea,” wrote columnist Michelle Goldberg of Slate online. “One of the most shameful things about Reagan’s presidency was his determined refusal to acknowledge an epidemic that was killing Americans by the tens of thousands.”
Dr. C. Everett Koop, who served as United States surgeon general in the Reagan administration, later revealed that Reagan’s advisers kept the president away from discussions of AIDS policy, because the president’s handlers “took the stand, ‘They are only getting what they justly deserve,’” with regard to AIDS victims.
“Transmission of AIDS was understood to be primarily in the homosexual population and in those who abused intravenous drugs,” Koop said, quoted in a 2011 book.
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Nancy Reagan, far from becoming involved in AIDS advocacy even on a “low-key” basis, turned down the 1985 request of a personal friend — actor Rock Hudson, who had been a “closeted” gay man and who had contracted AIDS — for help with the disease.
As revealed by the online publication BuzzFeed, because the Reagan administration had actually cut funding for AIDS research and treatment, Hudson sought to be admitted to a hospital in France for treatment. When he was turned down because he was not a French citizen, Hudson sent a personal request to the White House, asking for intervention at the diplomatic level to get him into a French hospital.
But Nancy Reagan intervened and personally denied her friend’s plea, BuzzFeed reported. Hudson died of AIDS-related causes less than a year later.
After she came under fire for her strange statements about Nancy Reagan and AIDS advocacy on Friday, Hillary Clinton issued a statement on her official Twitter account, in which she apologized. But she offered no explanation for her statement other than that she “misspoke.”
Hillary Clinton’s statement on her comments about the Reagans’ record on HIV and AIDS: pic.twitter.com/RtIs0zpJfk
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) March 11, 2016
Whether Hillary Clinton was thinking of the later stance taken by Nancy Reagan, in which she finally did “encourage her husband to seek more funding for AIDS research,” according to the Associated Press — but only after the death of Rock Hudson and tens of thousands more Americans — Clinton did not specify.
[Featured Photo By David McNew/Getty Images]