Hillary Clinton Praises Nancy Reagan’s Stance on AIDS

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Sorta transcript:

Whenever I talk politics on this channel, I’m usually mocking and correcting conservatives, since with few exceptions they tend to have a lock on anti-science, and anti-woman, policies. But today I’m finally going to criticize a very famous Democratic politician . . . for inappropriately praising a conservative.

Hillary Clinton recently attended the funeral of past First Lady Nancy Reagan, and while doing so she gave an interview in which she stated, and I quote: “It may be hard for your viewers to remember how difficult it was for people to talk about HIV/AIDS in the 1980s. And because of both President and Mrs. Reagan, in particular, Mrs. Reagan, we started national conversation when before no one would talk about it, no one wanted to do anything about it, and that too is something that really appreciated, with her very effective, low-key advocacy, but it penetrated the public conscience and people began to say ‘Hey, we have to do something about this too.’”

Far be it from me to speak on behalf of the tens of thousands of people who lost their lives to AIDS while the Reagan administration laughed — literally laughed about it — for five years, but allow me to just say: fuuuuuuuuuck you.

Nancy Reagan helped start a national conversation about AIDS in the same way that Switzerland helped start a conversation about the Nazis: by ignoring it and hoping it would just go away.

Clinton has since Tweeted that she “misspoke,” by which I assume she means “said the complete opposite of the thing that was reality.” “Oh, did I say Bigfoot stole my car? I misspoke. Bigfoot does not exist and my car is still in the driveway.”

This is a crucial time for Clinton to engage in this kind of historical revision–many adults today aren’t old enough to remember the AIDS epidemic, let alone the Reagan administration’s complicity in it, so her comment could easily be accepted as fact by people who don’t know any better, in addition to people who are biased in favor of leadership that ignores immense social problems because they’re politically challenging. Like, say, America’s current epidemic of police violence, or gun violence, or domestic terrorism.

Because that’s exactly what the Reagans did, including Nancy: while literally tens of thousands of people were dying, they refused to do anything. When asked about the AIDS crisis repeatedly across multiple press conferences, Reagan’s press secretary again and again laughed it off, making jokes about the “gay plague” and saying that Reagan had no opinion on the crisis. When her friend Rock Hudson asked Nancy Reagan for help getting into a hospital for AIDS treatment, she refused. When one of the first doctors to diagnose and treat AIDS wrote to Reagan pleading him to ask the CDC and NIH to prioritize AIDS research in 1987 after more than 20,000 people had already died, he got a letter back thanking him for his support. It took five years before Ronald Reagan even uttered the word “AIDS” in public.

I’m incredibly disappointed with how Hillary Clinton summed all this up as the Reagans starting a conversation. They didn’t. They put their fingers in their ears and talked about UFOs and consulted psychics while tens of thousands of people died. We can’t forget that, because if we do, we’ll let it happen again and again.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. Rebecca Watson,

    It seems really odd that you’re not criticizing a conservative for doing this, especially since the modern GOP idealizes Reagan.

    1. Um, isn’t your comment a bit like Dawkins criticizing Rebecca for calling out American misogyny when third world women have it worse?
      Clinton told a pretty disturbing and disgusting lie. It doesn’t make her look good. Her backtracking makes her look even worse. She should be held accountable for it.

      1. Kaloikagathoi,

        Not really, since I’m not really criticizing her. It was a rhetorical question. I’m just pointing out how strange it seems to me.

      2. criticaldragon1177 is a regular, and from his commenting history, you should give him the benefit of the doubt. I think what he’s getting at is that it’s really odd to see this coming from Clinton instead of one of the GOP presidential candidates.

          1. Mattf,

            No big deal. I should have worded it a bit better. I wasn’t clear with what I meant. I can see how you might not have understood what I was trying to say based on what I wrote.

        1. Jac,

          Thanks for coming to my defense.

          That’s exactly what I was getting at. Sorry for not being clear enough guys, if any of you thought I was saying Rebecca shouldn’t be criticizing Hillary for the this, since conservatives are so much worse. That wasn’t what I was saying.

          1. Kaloikagathoi,

            You’re Welcome,

            Sorry about any confusion I may have caused.

    2. Clintonian triangulation. (Named for Bill, but the entire DLC does the same thing, and again, I wish they’d all just go the way of Lieberman.) Thing is, they’re not actually aware of where the center is; often, they’re already right of the center, but left of the Republicans, so they try to meet them halfway, and then halfway, and then halfway, and Zeno’s paradox ensues.

      (That false equivalence is the media’s favorite narrative…doesn’t help.)

      I…guess the Reagans were better than Thabo Mbeki on AIDS?

      Reagan’s base treated AIDS as a cure for gay men’s existence.

  2. Clinton said she meant to praise Nancy Regan for her work raising awareness about Alzheimer’s disease and promoting stem cell research. Here’s the thing: I was born in the ’80s. I have only vague memories of the policies of the time. But if you were to ask me which disease starting with “A” did Ronald Regan get, and which did he pretend wasn’t a thing while thousands of people died if it, there’s no chance I’d mix those two up. It’s hard for me to square the idea of Hilary Clinton doing so, esp when healthcare reform was her thing during the following decade.

    1. Jac,

      Maybe Hillary’s memory was faulty and she didn’t remember the eighties exactly like they really were until someone pointed out her mistake.

      1. It’s an election year and she’s running. There’s no way she went to a public event without preparing everything she was going to say publicly beforehand. You don’t just wing it when you’re playing that game.

      2. That’s kind of like not remembering where historians landed on the issue of whether or not the Holocaust happened. You don’t make that mistake without keeping very bad company and being willful in your ignorance.

    2. I imagine she was thinking “Okay, flashback to the 80s. Keytars, Nintendo, Commodore 64, rap music, Hast zu etwas Zeit für mich/dann singe ich ein Leid für dich/von neunundneunzig Luftballons auf ihrem Weg zum Horizont…” Then she went to “Hmm…Can’t say supply-side economics because I’m officially against that. Can’t talk about nuclear war or apartheid without seeming disrespectful. Or the war on drugs because Bill continued that.” Eventually she came up with AIDS.

      (As an aside, I remember military recruiters having a band come to my high school and playing that song. In English, but still, it was kind of an odd juxtaposition.)

      1. Having them play it in English seems even weirder. If they played it in German at least you could assume they didn’t understand it…

  3. What’s easier to believe, that Secretary Clinton actually believes that Nancy Reagan was an advocate for people with HIV, something she was famously not and a looney notion for anyone who lived through that time, or that she mixed up HIV advocacy with Mrs. Reagan’s Alzheimer’s advocacy, something she was known for? For me it’s easier to believe this is a screw up rather than someone who believes something that’s barking mad.

    1. Read her quote again. It makes zero sense with “alzheimer’s” swapped in for “AIDS/HIV”.

      I think the easiest thing for me to believe here, is the unstated option C: That Clinton was doing what she does best; being a politician and saying pandering statements for the situation she was then in. She just didn’t, for whatever reason, see the backlash that would come from this one.

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