Well, the warm feelings surrounding the late Ronald Reagan are officially not unanimous.
A number of writers on the blogosphere have taken all sorts of swipes at the deceased 40th president, even as he enjoys his final landslide with unexpected crowds of people numbering in the hundreds of thousands standing in lines for hours to bid him goodbye.
“Will any of the major networks mention Reagan’s six-year silence on AIDS (while over 41,000 Americans were dying?)” asks a blogspot.com photo caption.
Since nothing President Reagan could have done could satisfy these critics, I normally would ignore such carping, especially now. However, a writer named “glassfrequency” (all lower case, like e.e.cummings, and one word, like many an e-mail address) has challenged my honor, and that of my colleagues. On Tuesday, glassfrequency wrote a piece titled “Reagan Revisionists at the National Review.”
Mr. (or Ms.) glassfrequency attacks a piece I wrote last year called “Anti-gay Gipper: Another Lie about Reagan.” In light of the controversial telepic The Reagans (which Viacom moved from CBS to Showtime after Reaganites protested), I challenged the conventional wisdom that Reagan “did nothing” about AIDS and was a homophobe to boot, as the TV movie suggested. glassfrequency didn’t care for my piece.
“This is only one of many attempts to revise history,” glassfrequency writes. “Don’t let them get away with it.”
Let me respond to these charges:
glassfrequency says I wrote “the December 2003 National Review article with ‘misleading’ information about the 1986 State of the Union address.”
I reported that President Reagan used the word “AIDS” six times in his 1986 State of the Union address. This was an effort to respond to the common complaint that Reagan’s lips were sealed on AIDS for years. For instance, The Encyclopedia of AIDS: A Social, Political, Cultural, and Scientific Record of the HIV Epidemic, edited by Raymond A. Smith, says that, “Reagan never even mentioned the word ‘AIDS’ publicly until 1987.”
According to American Enterprise Institute scholar and Reagan biographer Steve Hayward, a CD-Rom of President Reagan’s official papers lists the following text as a passage from his 1986 State of the Union:
We will continue, as a high priority, the fight against Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). An unprecedented research effort is underway to deal with this major epidemic public health threat. The number of AIDS cases is expected to increase. While there are hopes for drugs and vaccines against AIDS, none is immediately at hand. Consequently, efforts should focus on prevention, to inform and to lower risks of further transmission of the AIDS virus. To this end, I am asking the Surgeon General to prepare a report to the American people on AIDS.
Hayward double-checked it on Wednesday night. “That passage does appear exactly as you quote it in the text of the official Messages and Papers of the President,” Hayward told me. “I am at a loss to explain the discrepancy, if there is one.”
There is one.
Neither the Washington Post’s transcript of the 1986 State of the Union nor that of Facts on File contains this passage. glassfrequency did find it in something called “Message to the Congress on America’s Agenda for the Future.” That document, dated February 6, 1986, two days after the speech, offered Capitol Hill specific details on that year’s White House priorities.
Perhaps through mislabeling, misediting, or something else, the speech and this document may have been conflated on this CD-Rom. If so, I apologize for communicating erroneous information despite my good-faith efforts to transmit the truth.
glassfrequency says further, “As is frequently, and accurately, reported, it was not until 1987 that Reagan spoke the word ‘AIDS’ in a speech.”
Here, glassfrequency might wish to whip out the Windex.
In fact, the 40th president first spoke of AIDS no later than September 17, 1985. Responding to a reporter’s question on AIDS research, the president told a White House news conference:
[I]ncluding what we have in the budget for ‘86, it will amount to over a half a billion dollars that we have provided for research on AIDS in addition to what I’m sure other medical groups are doing. And we have $100 million in the budget this year; it’ll be 126 million next year. So, this is a top priority with us. Yes, there’s no question about the seriousness of this and the need to find an answer.
Is a press-conference comment as relevant as a speech? I report. You decide. In either case, what matters is that President Reagan said what he did.
“He is actually commenting on it publicly–that’s a start,” Dr. Paul A. Volberding, an AIDS researcher at San Francisco General Hospital, told Marlene Cimons in the September 19, 1985, Los Angeles Times. “I had been concerned that there has been no comment at all from his office, given the seriousness of the epidemic.”
The notion that Ronald Reagan never used the word “AIDS” publicly until 1987 constitutes its own bead on the Left’s political rosary. Reagan spoke of AIDS at least 15 months earlier.
”No doubt,” glassfrequency writes, my article “is frequently referenced by Reagan apologists to discredit and trivialize the claims of ‘those gay activists.’”
Who knows what so-called “Reagan apologists” do with my work? Few Reaganites I have met apologize for someone of whom we are so proud and admiring, but that’s another story.
My article aimed to refute the fiction that Reagan “did nothing” about AIDS and probably hated gay people, too. To that end, I would urge glassfrequency to focus on something I covered in my piece as well as two data that are not in it:
First, according to the Congressional Research Service, federal spending on HIV/AIDS began at $8 million in fiscal year 1982 (remember that President Reagan was inaugurated on January 20, 1981). By the time Reagan left office, the fiscal 1989 budget contained $2.322 billion for HIV/AIDS. Overall, between fiscal years 1982 and 1989, the Reagan Administration spent $5.727 billion on HIV/AIDS.
Second, the average annual increase in HIV/AIDS funding over this period was 128.92 percent. Granted, this reflects the fact that spending quickly accelerated within a few years from literally nothing at first. Still, if Reagan really didn’t care about AIDS patients, surely he could have found a way for the growth curve on this item to follow a more horizontal trajectory.
Third, for those who believe Reagan was a homophobic bigot, consider Robert G. Kaiser’s report in the March 18, 1984, Washington Post.
“The Reagans are also tolerant about homosexual men,” Kaiser wrote. “Their interior decorator, Ted Graber, who oversaw the redecoration of the White House, spent a night in the Reagans’ private White House quarters with his male lover, Archie Case, when they came to Washington for Nancy Reagan’s 60th birthday party–a fact confirmed for the press by Mrs. Reagan’s press secretary.”
So, the Reagans hosted a gay, male couple who spent the evening together in the Executive Mansion? If this is homophobia, let’s elect more homophobes.