In an appearance on MSBC, Clinton praised the Reagans’ efforts to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS. “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,” Clinton said, crediting Nancy for “her very effective, low-key advocacy.”
Just how “low-key” was Nancy’s advocacy? So low-key that most people would characterize it as not advocacy at all. After the disease’s first cases were identified in 1981, President Reagan waited until 1987, almost at the end of his second term, to speak publicly about the disease. His communications director, Pat Buchanan, described AIDS as “nature’s revenge on gay men.”
Nancy herself even turned down a request from her old friend Rock Hudson, who was dying of AIDS in 1985, for help in getting a transfer to a hospital with better treatment. She believed the favor would be inappropriate, though the couple reportedly performed many other favors for Hollywood friends.
The administration’s prejudiced inaction allowed the disease to spread into a pandemic. Hudson’s eventual death did bring unprecedented attention to the disease among the mainstream public, but that hardly counts as the Reagans starting a conversation. They did so only when forced to. They lagged behind, and many people suffered tremendously for it.
Update: Hillary Clinton has issued a statement apologizing for her remarks.