Blogs > Cliopatria > Reagan Did Mention AIDS Publicly Before 1987

Jun 12, 2004 6:11 am

Reagan Did Mention AIDS Publicly Before 1987

Jim Stinson, in an email to Poynter online (June 11, 2004):

Facts are stubborn things, President John Adams said. But errors stick better. The biggest error I've seen from the Reagan-coverage critics is that former President Reagan didn't "finally mention" AIDS publicly until 1987, spread this time by Michael Miner of the Chicago Reader. Never mind that it seems unlikely, as friend Rock Hudson died of AIDS in 1985. According to various sources, it just isn't true. The confusion may arise from the fact that was the year of Reagan's AIDS committee's first report (begun in 1986), and was also the year of his first major speech on AIDS. But according to the AIDS Education Global Information System, author Steven Hayward, and columnist Deroy Murdock, Reagan's first known public statement on AIDS came on Sept. 17, 1985 (to a reporter at a White House press conference). I assume that qualifies as "public." Later, Reagan mentioned AIDS on Feb. 6, 1986, vowing in a letter to Congress to make AIDS a priority. Spending started in 1982, Murdock found. By fiscal year 1986, half a billion dollars were being spent. By 1989, $5 billion had been spent. Michael Miner's whole article on Reagan and AIDS was meant to show the indifference Reagan had for vulnerable people, but not unlike many of Reagan's knee-jerk critics, it only shows the impermeability of a good portion of the media mind. Erroneous political claims and bias, in the form of "conventional political cliche," get in. They rarely get out.

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William R. Clay - 6/24/2004

Mr. Baxter is certainly correct in his observation of hindsight’s all seeing powers. What he is not correct in is his reading and comprehension of precisely what Mr. Stinson actually stated in his article. In his rush to condemn former President Reagan, and please understand I am not stepping in as an apologist for the late president, Mr. Baxter misconstrues Mr. Stinson’s presented facts. What the author actually said was, “…By 1989, $5 billion had been spent…”. That is a far cry from saying the Reagan administration spent $5 billion in 1989. Furthermore, Mr. Stinson says that spending started in 1982 and that, “By fiscal year 1986, half a billion dollars were being spent.”

What this seems to say to the reader is that the fiscal year budget for 1986 would have contained a line item for an expenditure of 500 million dollars for AIDS research. It would further give the impression that yearly spending started at some level and went up to that half-billion figure by 1986. Let me recap this. According to Mr. Stinson, in a seven-year period, 1982 – 1989, the Reagan administration had allocated a total of 5 billion dollars toward AIDS research. Admittedly, this is a pittance compared to military spending during the same time, but it is not “paltry”. Mr. Stinson did not at any point in his article even say the 1986 level of outlay was “paltry”; Mr. Baxter somehow reads this between the lines or fabricated it from some other source of his imagining.

While Mr. Baxter’s erroneous comments were perhaps the result of incomplete comprehension. Mr. Besch’s diatribe was from somewhere clearly beyond left field. One may at their leisure count out the five billion reasons, in foldable greenbacks, as to why Mr. Besch’s argument stands on a falsehood. He is positively correct in one miniscule slice of his commentary. That occurs when he says, “The point was not his mention of AIDS at anyone time but if t(he) actually did anything about it.” Mr. Besch, I submit you are correct here, it matters little what Reagan said. No, the real proof is in the actions, and I further submit to you that there are 5 billion reasons that say there was action on AIDS under Reagan’s watch. Was this enough?

Perhaps, perhaps not. That judgment will depend on one’s viewpoint. Those with, or involved with, AIDS will certainly say it was nowhere close to being enough. Those not directly affected by AIDS will say that 5 billion sounds like a lot of tax dollars heading out of the U.S. treasury. The charges of potential racism, as proposed by Mr. Baxter and implied by Mr. Besch, are simply a sham. Even recently, as of 2002, there is a low figure of 384,906 people living with AIDS in the United States, to nearly 900,000 afflicted people in other more liberal estimates. There is no question this is a horrific disease, and it prevalence overseas may include far higher percentage numbers, but in the United States we talking about .3 percent of the population (using the higher estimate from 2002 and 2000 census totals) that have this disease ( for the figures on AIDS). Since the first recorded cases of AIDS were put on the books only by 1981, how low do you think AIDS was on the radar back in the early part of the decade?

Far from being a case of racism, I find it remarkable that as much was done as early as it was. Again, I do not apologize for Reagan’s many faults, I simply would like the facts to speak for themselves. There was action, in the form of early 1980’s funding, and there was commitment toward AIDS research and relief from within the Reagan administration, in the form of expanded funding, as his two terms passed into history. These are the facts.

Randolph W. Baxter - 6/24/2004

Congratulations to Jim Stinson for revealing the minor details behind the major omissions of the 1980s. In doing so, he engages in the same type of historical nit-picking that he seemingly would complain that liberals use to slander conservative politicians. Along the same lines but from the opposite political standpoint, our last legitimately elected president infamously tried to parse the meaning of sex, as I recall...

Petty venting aside, I agree with Mr. Besch's point that Reagan did not prioritize AIDS in any way before 1987, well after the epidemic had spread to massive proportions (it was also a Haitian disease, remember, as well as a gay-man's plague, so there's potentially a charge of racism in the administration's refusal to address something afflicting "those" people).

Even Mr. Stinson admits that funding was still a paltry half-billion dollars in '86, rising to $5 billion by '89. What a coincidence that funding only increased after 1987 when medical reports warned that AIDS could spread into the heterosexual population. Then it was truly a national-security concern, medically speaking, and Reagan would've been truly amiss in neglecting it further.

Reagan was, to be fair, caught having to get reelected in '84, and was busy heroically and personally ending the Cold War after 1985, so perhaps we historians should give him a break for neglecting the fate of millions of sex maniacs around the world. Hindsight is always clearer than foresight.

Randll Reese Besch - 6/19/2004

The point was not his mention of AIDS at any one time but if the actually did anything abour it. Either active or passive for or against. For at least six years he did not support the fight for education and treatment since to him and others it was a "gay disease" and therefor of a dispised minority not worth helping to live. That should of been the point of the article,not addressed,only the mere mention of AIDS as if talking is synonymous with doing.
So the whole sordid excercise was irelavent to the core issue of addressing AIDS not rheotorical gymnastics.
See the present gov't for examples.