COMMENTARY | One of the great smears against President Ronald Reagan is that he was a homophobic bigot who was too slow to create public policy to combat the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s. As Carl Cannon points out, the opposite is actually true.
The calumny is a long standing one, but has apparently been renewed for the HBO version of a 1985 play called “The Normal Heart,” said to depict the early years of the AIDS epidemic and efforts by gay activists and health care providers to raise awareness in the face, it is said, of government indifference. Larry Kramer, the playwright, compared Reagan to Hitler, responsible for 70 million deaths world-wide from AIDS. Besides being a particularly hysterical violation of Godwin’s Law, it is a lie that can easily be refuted.
By the metric that really matters, the amount of money that was spent of research, Reagan was very proactive. “The administration increased AIDS funding requests from $8 million in 1982 to $26.5 million in 1983, which Congress bumped to $44 million, a number that doubled every year thereafter during Reagan’s presidency.”
Part of the lie that Reagan was homophobic stems from the assumption that since Reagan was a conservative and all conservatives hate gay people Reagan hated gay people. Leaving aside the utter bigotry of the assumption, people who hold that view forget that before getting into politics, Reagan was an actor and prominent in the entertainment industry which is noted for its tolerance toward gay people. Reagan himself, in the late 1970s, campaigned against ballot initiative in California that would have that would have barred gays and lesbians from teaching in public schools and was instrumental in defeating it.
The real problem is that AIDS, once a sure sentence to a particularly grisly death, is like many diseases an intractable one that has taken time for researchers to find treatments for. It is not unique in that regard. Over 40 years after President Richard Nixon declared war on cancer, despite some remarkable progress, the disease is still killing many millions of people every year. No one is accusing anyone of hating people with cancer, after all.