Hillary Clinton had to walk back comments she made on Friday praising former First Lady Nancy Reagan’s “effective, low-key advocacy” of HIV/AIDS.
Clinton was speaking to MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell about Mrs. Reagan’s legacy right before her funeral in Simi Valley, California. The former secretary of state had nice things to say about Reagan. Perhaps a little too nice.
“It may be hard for your viewers to remember how difficult it was for people to talk about HIV/AIDS back in the 1980s. And because of both President and Mrs. Reagan — in particular, Mrs. Reagan — we started a national conversation when, before, no one would talk about it, no one wanted to do anything about it. And that too is something that 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.'”
There’s only one problem with that statement.
Both Ronald and Nancy Reagan have been widely criticized for ignoring the AIDS epidemic, which started during Reagan’s second year in office. Reagan didn’t even mention the word AIDS publicly until late into his second term. By then scores of people were infected with and dying from the virus, among them Reagans’ close friend, actor Rock Hudson, on whom Nancy reportedly turned her back when he asked for help to secure treatment.
Not even Reagan’s press secretary Larry Speakes had much to say about the AIDS crisis beyond laughter.
When asked by a reporter about a horrifying new disease called AIDS that was ravaging the gay community in October of 1982, Speakes shot back, “I don’t have it … Do you?”
The room erupted in laughter, this as more than 700 cases of AIDS were reported in the U.S. and more than 600 people died of the disease, according to amfAR.
Clinton was apparently alerted to these facts as she quickly apologized:
Hillary Clinton’s statement on her comments about the Reagans' record on HIV and AIDS: pic.twitter.com/RtIs0zpJfk
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) March 11, 2016