Reagan's AIDS position

So the made-for-TV movie about Reagan seems to have unfairly put words in Reagan’s mouth about AIDS delivering to sinners what they deserved.

I’m trying to find what Reagan’s real position was. He pretty clearly had no real policy, and was pretty quiet about AIDS, but are there good sources for what his position was?

I’ve found stuff so far that’s incredibly biased - beyond believability - on both sides.

What did Reagan really say about AIDS?

There’s certainly some opinion out there:

How Ronald Reagan Caused the AIDS Epidemic

Is it a good thing that AIDS hit the gay community first?

Waxman warns against AIDS overreaction

AIDS research is big business now, as it should be. At the time Ronnie ran and won, we’d never heard of it.

Nobody’s without an agenda, Here’s another read: Encyclopedia of AIDS

AIDS research was funded rather rapidly for an entirely new thing, and Reagan’s Republican successors, Bush Sr. and Dub, have embraced tackling the disease.

The good: Reagan managed to appoint someone to the Surgeon General’s position who was unable to give up his professional and moral obligations and actually dealt with the problem of AIDS.
The bad: Reagan didn’t. He ignored it as long as possible. Many conservatives still have backwards opinions on the disease. Many more people have allowed themselves to become complacent due in large part to this.

From Dutch, the authorized biography of Reagan:

On homosexuality

pg 415:


pg 458:

Make of that what you will…

Press conference; Sept. 1985

Remarks to HHS; Feb 1986

Agenda for the Future; 1986

The public papers available at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library site contain no mention of AIDS prior to 1986. I guess that’s what all those “Silence = Death” T-Shirts were all about.

Reagan’s AIDS position?

Well, HE liked it, but Nancy found it rather hard on the elbows… :slight_smile:

As the cited materials indicate, Reagan seems to have been conflicted on AIDS – his actions post 1986 are laudible, but his prior silence (and personal feelings all along) may have been a reflection of some anti-gay prejudice (which was more common at the time).

Not to hijack this into a GD, but I personally think the RNC is overreacting at the suggestion that Reagan would have expressed a sentiment such as “they that live in sin will die in sin”: I do indeed remember arguing with quite a few conservatives who held that AIDS was a plague from God. It was not nearly as odious a position as it would be today.

Public opinion changes, and leaders (liberal and conservative alike) are influenced by these changes.

It doesn’t diminish public figures to tell the whole truth about them, in perspective. (E.g., Abraham Lincoln held some views on race that would put him way outside any mainstream political party today).

Apologies for the hijack.

Uh? It was always hateful, bigotted and backward, and perfectly odious. What’s changed? We’re only talking 20 years ago, how could anyone in the late 20th century speak of God’s revenge with a straight face but no matching jacket?

I didn’t state that very clearly.

Such a statement would have been odious then, and would be odious now. Absolutely. As I said, I was often challenged by conservatives when I took issue with such statements a few years ago.

What was different was how many people thought it was odious then, compared to now. (There has been some progress). And, by extension, how likely a conservative President from that era would have been likely to agree with that particular odious statement, on which a substantial part of the RNC’s outrage is based.

And I would assert that a lot can change in twenty years on such matters.

You need to keep in mind that much less was known about AIDS and HIV infection then. The first publicly known cases occurred in America in March 1981. The virus causing it was not clearly identified until March 1985. It wasn’t even clear that HIV infection always led to AIDS.

And AIDS wasn’t ‘marketed’ then as it is now. Back in the early 80s, the disease was confined largely to gay men and IV drug abusers. This is far from wishing death on either group, but the idea that AIDS is a threat to most heterosexuals is not pushed as hard as it is now. Therefore, it didn’t appear on most people’s radar.

And therefore, Reagan left this public health issue in the hands of his Surgeon General. Who publicized the facts almost as soon as they were known.

Cite for the early history of AIDS in the US.


F. U. Shakespeare, Shodan,

Um. Yes a lot can change in 20 years, and yes, AIDS was “marketed” differently then, but as someone in the then target “market” (I’m 41, which made me the prime target of the after-the-horse-has-bolted, scaremongering, propagandandised “marketing” of AIDS):[ul][li]nothing seems to have changed significantly in these two decades – certainly not for the betterI don’t doubt that initial signs were that this disease was statistically more prevalent in the gay community (and/or other “risk groups”), but it was never anything other than bigotted horseshit to attribute AIDS to the “wrath of God”[/ul][/li]
Apologies for the hijack.

Thanks - lots of good, well-cited answers here.

The Great Unwashed, I would respectfully disagree that public attitudes have not changed substantially in the last twenty years.

I have many conservative friends, and I can’t remember the last time I had to take issue with any of them about the ridiculous “plague from God” argument.

Well, that’s exactly why I asked. I was here 20 years ago, but I wanted a reality check against my memory.

Our memories do distort things after twenty years, and as public perception does change, we forget how things were before.

But, isn’t Dutch an authorized biography of Reagan?

IOW, wouldn’t someone representing Reagan’s interests have vetted the manuscript before publication?

Besides, the use of this bizzare literary device might be unconventional and controversial but the parts I quoted are descriptive and a direct quote, not a part of the invented narrative.

bup, assuming (as I am) that the Morris note is credible…

Consider how much progress we’ve made – the GOP recently threw its full weight into electing an admitted, unrepentant serial indulger in ‘illicit sex’ (albeit with girls, as defined by the Ten Commandments) to follow in Ronald Reagan’s footsteps as California governor.

And that Arnold was very likely indulging in this ‘illicit sex’ when Governor Reagan was elected President in 1980.


Where’s the post to which I replied?

The one that was immediately after bup’s 11-05 post.