Friday, June 11, 2004

Reagan and AIDS

There's an interesting discussion over at on exactly how much Reagan did or did not do with respect to what we now know as HIV and AIDS during his tenure as president. [1, 2, 3] One reader points out that funding for AIDS grew steadily from 1982 to 1986.

Rush Limbaugh said on June 9 about those silly revisionist liberals:

[Opponents are saying that] Reagan caused AIDS, Reagan allowed AIDS to happen. I would parse what they said with the utmost logic. There's one way this disease is spread. Does anybody know something about Reagan we don't know? Of course, that did not win me any friends in that community. [That community, Rush? Oh, it's "those people" again?] But then they would say, well, no. He didn't care. Well, how do you know he didn't care? Because he never said anything about it. He didn't get any money spent on it. Not true. By the time Reagan left office, we had spent six, what was it, billion dollars, $5.7 billion on AIDS research. What they're really angry about, folks, is that Reagan did not turn his presidency over to AIDS.

Rush, no one is saying that he should have "turned his presidency over to AIDS." But maybe acknowledging that it even existed would have been reasonable? According to the Advocate article mentioned below, Reagan first mentioned AIDS in a major policy address in October of 1987. That's six years into the epidemic and nearly 30,000 people had died, and there were 60,000 reported cases. And he just now got around to mentioning it. Think about that. That's ten 9/11's before he addressed the issue.

The Advocate has what I think is an excellent opinion piece. Of course, that's a gay magazine and therefore, by definition, part of the commie, mutant, liberal press, so it's expected it would have a bit of an anti-Republican slant.

Yesterday I was at work and had to look up an old Nature paper for something I was researching. When I download a paper, I often look around that volume of the journal to see if there are any other interesting articles nearby. And I came across a fascinating series of news articles and opinion pieces.

Now let me put this into perspective. This isn't a gay news and entertainment magazine like The Advocate. This is Nature, one of the premier scientific journals in the entire world. It's British, and it's closest American counterpart on the same level is Science. These two journals are incredibly prestigious. At this point in my life, getting an article published in either of them would probably make my career. It's a major feather in the cap of even a well-respected scientist.

These articles range from July to December of 1987. Remember, it's at this time, in October, when Reagan first mentioned AIDS in a policy address. Thirty thousand people are already dead, and thirty thousand additional cases of AIDS (not HIV infections) are known to exist.

[President Reagan's advisory panel on AIDS] consists of people whose ideological qualifications are clear, but whose expertise on AIDS is not just suspect but non-existent. Theresa Crenshaw, the sex therapist from San Diego, supports abstinence from sexual activity as a general prophylactic against AIDS. That is symptomatic of a philosophy already espoused by the Reagan Administration for "wrong" behaviour of which it disapproves: "Just say no."

... [There are] questions of the balance between personal liberty and communal health, that will be tackled wisely only by well-prepared communities. Yet these are the issues for which the US government needs advice. The panel now appointed will deliver nothing of the sort. President Reagan may know that in advance.

-- "Bad advice on AIDS." Nature. 328, 366 (30 July 1987).

That was an Opinion piece. This one is in the News section:

The credibility of the US presidential commission on AIDS is in serious doubt... critics claim that its 13 members had been appointed more for their conservative views than for any expertise on medical issues.

... [About Secretary of Education William J. Bennett's handbook, AIDS and the Education of our Children -- a Guide for Parents and Teachers] The handbook, which comes with the approval of the White House, toes the now familiar conservative line that, as Bennett puts it, "when it comes to AIDS, science and morality walk the same path, they teach the same thing." [That is, abstinence. Presumably just up until marriage to your high school sweetheart.]

... [Surgeon General C. Everett Koop] also accepts that monogamy will prevent the spread of AIDS, had has strongly recommended the sue of condoms to the many young people who do engage in premarital sex. Bennett's handbook, in contrast, points out there is a danger that 'promoting the use of condoms can suggest to teenagers that adults expect them to engage in sexual intercourse."

-- "President's new AIDS commission in turmoil." Nature. 329, 570 (15 Oct 1987).

Faithful readers of this site (of which I think there are exactly two, including myself) will remember a previous rant of mine about how abstinence-only education in public schools does not work, can not work, and is probably more dangerous than teaching a responsible program of comprehensive sex education.

Bear with me, these last two are short:

Prompted both by the success and the failure of its first effort, the US Institute of Medicine has begun work on a second edition of its report Confronting AIDS: Directions for Public Health, Health Care and Research. When released last year, the report generated massive press coverage, and its conclusions were widely embraced, but not put into practice by federal government.

-- "AIDS report update." Nature. 330, 307 (26 Nov 1987).

And finally, oddly enough in a piece primarily about the Strategic Defense Initiative,

There is still no body identified to coordinate the US response to AIDS, no strong leadership from Reagan on the subject and no large-scale public education campaign.

-- "Togetherness by debate." Nature. 330, 408 (3 Dec 1987).

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