As the political figures of my youth pass away, I realize how few of them I really know much about, even though I’m a pretty political guy obviously. That’s especially true of the Reagan Administration. I could probably name 40 or so Reagan appointees without working too hard, but that’s not that many. But I do figure that when one dies, that person was probably involved in some nasty or evil stuff. Take the death of Reagan’s quasi-press secretary Larry Speakes, who passed away yesterday at the age of 74. I didn’t remember him at all. But those more knowledgeable than I started working. And they reminded me and other that Speakes, like many others in the Reagan Administration, thought AIDS was hilarious. From the June 13, 1983 White House press briefing.
Q: Larry, does the President think that it might help if he suggested that the gays cut down on their “cruising”? (Laughter.) What? I didn’t hear your answer, Larry.
MR. SPEAKES: I just was acknowledging your interest—
Q: You were acknowledging but—
MR. SPEAKES: —interest in this subject.
Q: —you don’t think that it would help if the gays cut down on their cruising—it would help AIDS?
MR. SPEAKES: We are researching it. If we come up with any research that sheds some light on whether gays should cruise or not cruise, we’ll make it available to you. (Laughter.)
Q: Back to fairy tales.
Oh I haven’t laughed that loud since Richard Nixon made his 5000th racist joke. Meanwhile, the Reagan Administration’s response to AIDS was the greatest public health failure in the history of the United States, when the government helped doom thousands of people to die because they were gay or used heroin or were otherwise not the kind of people Reagan cared about. Compare the response to AIDS to that of Legionnaire’s Disease or SARS or West Nile virus. A few people dying led to national health alerts and huge research budgets. AIDS? It took until Reagan’s own friend Rock Hudson died for any real funding to get started.
If anyone hasn’t read Randy Shilts’ And the Band Played On, one the great pieces of journalism in American history, I highly recommend it for the blow by blow details of the Reagan’s Administration complicity in thousands of deaths.