Monday, December 24, 2012

A PRESIDENTIAL HALL OF SHAME CONTENDER: RONALD REAGAN – CHAPTER NINE



 
REAGAN AND HIS ASKEW ECONOMIC IDEAS SCREWED UP AMERICA FOR DECADES CHAPTER NINE - HIV AIDS (Some of this has been previously posted but still relevant years later)
THE START OF HIV-AIDS EPIDEMIC AND REAGAN’S REFUSAL TO EVEN ACKNOWLEDGE ITS EXISTENCE
The gay plague, God’s punishment to homosexuals, a curse from heaven to those heathen, perverts…that was the predominant rhetoric coming out of the pulpit in those days and one that Reagan seemed to be in tune with.
While young gay men were dropping like flies, the disease took a form of an epidemic but those in power, including the President opted to ignore it and if it was killing the gays…no big loss, they deserve to be punished for their sins.
That general attitude has changed considerably but there are still pockets of homophobes out there who use the Bible as a shield to spew hatred and misinformation. This is also a legacy of President Reagan.
Ignoring the warnings of the Center for Disease Control and that of other experts, Reagan again and again refused to even address the issue.


“If only Ronald Reagan had been willing or able to summon up similar passion and bluntness during the early days of AIDS. First reported in the medical and mainstream press in 1981, it was not until October 1987 that Reagan publicly spoke about the AIDS epidemic in a major policy address. By the end of that year, 59,572 AIDS cases had been reported and 27,909 of those women and men had died. He and his administration did almost nothing during the first seven years of the epidemic. AIDS research was chronically underfunded. Community education and prevention programs were routinely denied federal funding.
Reagan, a man affectionately dubbed the Great Communicator by his supporters, was excruciatingly, unjustifiably silent about HIV and AIDS. Defenders of the Reagan legacy like to argue that his domestic policy advisers downplayed AIDS to such a degree that the former president never developed a sense of urgency. To accept this, you would also have to believe that Reagan never watched television or picked up a newspaper. The media -- print and television, including the first 24-hour news network, CNN -- were all over AIDS in the 1980s. Histrionic televangelists like Pat Robertson and Rev. Jerry Falwell seized any opportunity to articulate and promote the idea that AIDS was God's wrath upon homosexuals.
Even as the highly publicized illness and subsequent 1985 death of Rock Hudson made headlines and sent a shiver down Hollywood's spine, Reagan remained inexplicably quiet. His friend and colleague, beloved actor and White House state dinner guest, was dead from AIDS. No public comment. What was that about? Indifference?
Had he chosen to speak up after Hudson's death, the world would have listened. Ronald Reagan, the man who confidently parlayed Hollywood stardom into a successful political career, could not have had a more compelling opportunity to open his mouth.
Some carefully chosen words might have squelched the homophobic rhetoric of the day. Some genuine leadership might have generated compassion to counter growing hostility and hysteria about AIDS in America. How profoundly different our world might be today if Reagan had pointed to one insufferable preacher and bellowed, "Rev. Falwell, you sanctimonious turd, sit down and shut up!"
Or what if this man, this piece of all-American craftsmanship, had simply offered an affirmation of plainspoken optimism about AIDS? What if he'd just told us he cared about the lives of the people infected or affected by the virus? In eulogizing the former president, the current occupant of the White House, George W. Bush, told us Ronald Reagan "believed that the gentleman always does the kindest thing." All the recent glorification of his presidency cannot eclipse the fact that when it came to AIDS, Ronald Reagan did not show the world his humanity.”* 



















It was at this point, in late July 1985,that Hudson publicly announced he had been diagnosed with AIDS.  There was a huge outpouring of support, but for the most part, I think it really just f-ed with people’s conception of of AIDS and of homosexuality.
Hudson’s announcement gave AIDS a public (and sympathetic) face, and was one of several moments in the 1980s that helped de-stigmatize the disease and those who suffered from it. It also gave a public face to homosexuality, one that was not stereotypical or the butt of a joke. These were enormous revelations, and their effects are still felt today.
How many of the deaths that took the lives of so many could have been prevented, or perhaps their lives extended if Reagan would have had the cojones to piss off his Evangelical allies, how much more could have been accomplished in the areas of prevention and research had he given the problem the attention it deserved. For that, the gay community and the world at large will hold Ronald Reagan responsible and will go down in history as one of the most homophobic and callous Presidents.

*David Salyer is an HIV-positive journalist, educator and activist living in Atlanta, Georgia. He leads safer sex presentations for men and has facilitated workshops for people infected or affected by HIV since 1994. Reach him by e-mail at cubscout@mindspring.com.


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