Hillary Clinton on Friday afternoon walked back a gross misstatement in which she had praised the recently deceased former first lady Nancy Reagan and President Reagan for starting “a national conversation” on the deadly AIDS virus.

“It may be hard for your viewers to remember how difficult it was for people to talk about HIV/AIDS back in the 1980s,” Clinton said on MSNBC. “And because of both President 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, and that, too, is something I really appreciate 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.’ ”

Nothing could be further from the truth, reports Zaid Jilani at The Intercept:

Clinton’s telling of HIV/AIDS history doesn’t align with the facts. President Reagan waited seven years to address the HIV/AIDS crisis, even as thousands of Americans died from the disease. Dr. C. Everett Koop, the administration’s surgeon general, said the president dragged his feet on the issue “because transmission of AIDS was understood to be primarily in the homosexual population and in those who abused intravenous drugs.” Koop said their position was that AIDS victims were “only getting what they justly deserve.”

In 1985 the Reagans’ friend Rock Hudson, then dying of AIDS, traveled to Paris in a desperate attempt to be treated by a French military doctor. As BuzzFeed’s Chris Geidner reported last year, Hudson’s publicist sent the Reagan White House a telegram begging for help in getting Hudson moved to a French military hospital where the doctor could treat him. Nancy Reagan personally saw and rejected the request.

Nancy Reagan may have played a role in encouraging her husband to push for more funding for AIDS research, which Congress did appropriate. However, says Kevin Cathcart, executive director of Lambda Legal, “Shameful is not even strong enough a word for the record of the Reagan administration on this. Did she try and fail, or not try very hard? I really don’t know.”

After an outcry from advocates of AIDS and HIV sufferers, Clinton apologized for the claim. “While the Reagans were strong advocates for stem cell research and finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, I misspoke about their record on HIV and AIDS. For that, I’m sorry,” she said in a statement on Twitter.

Steven Thrasher at The Guardian had an idea about why Clinton would fabricate the claim:

… for those of us who care about Aids and LGBT people, it is much harder and important to criticize the frontrunner of the Democratic party, who takes the support of gay voters for granted. Why, in 2016, did the Democratic frontrunner engage so blithely in the erasure of the people who actually did start the “national conversation” about Aids? Was it because they were gay men of the in-your-face variety of activism – many of whom died of the virus?

When Clinton said the Reagans led the way on Aids when “nobody wanted to do anything about it”, she is erasing these people from history in an ugly and dismissive fashion. …

Clinton later apologized, saying she “misspoke” about the Reagans on HIV/Aids. But what was she trying to gain by praising the Reagans in this way in the first place? I fear that she was engaging in a kind of dog-whistling, using the moment of Nancy Reagan’s death to appeal to voters who nostalgically loved the Reagans and dream of morning in America again. I fear by invoking a false Aids history, she was appealing to those who want a simpler time before gays got uppity. Perhaps she wants to peel off some of the white men voting for Sanders in the primary. Perhaps she is trolling for Reagan Democrats who might consider her over Trump in making America great again.

I have been frightened for some time that the crisis of AIDS is not over, especially for black America, and yet it has again largely been erased from our national political consciousness. Aids, which is projected to infect one in two black gay American men, is almost invisible from the presidential race. And now even the Democratic frontrunner has diminished Aids history herself.

Continue reading Thrasher’s comments here.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.


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