Repercussions of Reagan’s response to the AIDS crisis

Repercussions of Reagan’s response to the AIDS crisis

The death of former First Lady, Nancy Reagan, has galvanized a retrieval of past conflicts surrounding Ronald Reagan’s time in office. Hillary Clinton attended the funeral and talked about her relationship she shared with the former First Lady. The Democratic presidential candidate found herself stumbling upon a statement where she falsely attributed the national AIDS conversation that took place in the 1980’s to Nancy.


Clinton spoke to MSNBC: “Because of both President and Mrs. Reagan — in particular Mrs. Reagan — we started a national conversation. When before nobody would talk about it, nobody wanted to do anything about it.” She then described President Reagan’s role in the AIDS advocacy as “effective and low-key, something I really appreciated.” Clinton has since apologized for making this factually inaccurate statement, but as a result, has motivated a national conversation around the Reagan Administration’s fumbled response to the AIDS crisis.




Reagan’s response was costly and embarrassing for the United States. The Guardian explains, “[Reagan] was president for nearly five years before he said the word ‘AIDS’ in public, nearly seven years before he gave a speech on a health crisis that would go on to kill more than 650,000 Americans and stigmatize even more.”


The Reagan Administration was silent on the matter in the early years of the AIDS crisis. Much of the problematic views associated with the Administration’s beliefs were heavily investigated by Dr. Marcus Conant, who was one of the first physicians to diagnose and treat AIDS. Conant expressed that AIDS is an infection disease, in which the representatives responded with the excuse that it was a “legal problem, not a medical problem.” The problem continued to be ignored and tagged as too insignificant for a response.


By 1987, over 20,000 individuals had died from the disease. Dr. Conant wrote a letter to Reagan, stating that many of his patients were dying, and he urged action to be taken on behalf of the Centers for Disease Control and National Institutes of Health. The response was: “Nancy and I thank you for your support.” No action was taken.



Maybe the political expediency of the problem is what caused an avoidance to the situation. During a time when it was normal to make homophobic comments at press conferences in the White House, being in support of fighting the crisis would have severely bruised Reagan’s campaign. Either way, Reagan’s lack of response to the AIDS crisis was completely inappropriate and immoral. The fact that many people, including Clinton, are still unaware of this is a direct effect of Reagan’s response in the 80’s, and was a huge set back in awareness, treatment, and acceptance of the problem.


How do you think the conflict should have been handled? Leave a comment below or tweet me @julimiller97

Julianna Miller

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