Reagan and Domestic Policy--AIDS: A Very Short Introduction
Perhaps the greatest criticism surrounds Reagan's silence about the AIDS epidemic spreading in the 1980s. Although AIDS was first identified in 1981, Reagan did not mention it publicly for several more years, notably during a press conference in 1985 and several speeches in 1987. During the press conference in 1985, Reagan expressed skepticism in allowing children with AIDS to continue in school, stating:
It is true that some medical sources had said that [HIV] cannot be communicated in any way other than the ones we already know and which would not involve a child being in the school. And yet medicine has not come forth unequivocally and said, 'This we know for a fact, that it is safe.' And until they do, I think we just have to do the best we can with this problem. The CDC had previously issued a report stating that "casual person-to-person contact as would occur among schoolchildren appears to pose no risk." During his 1987 speeches Reagan supported modest educational funding on AIDS, increased AIDS testing for marriage licenses and mandatory testing for high risk groups.
Even with the death from AIDS of his friend Rock Hudson, Reagan was widely criticized for not supporting more active measures to contain the spread of AIDS. Until celebrity Elizabeth Taylor spoke out publicly about the monumental amount of people quickly dying from this new disease, most public officials and celebrities were too afraid of dealing with this subject.
Possibly in deference to the views of the powerful religious right, which saw AIDS as a disease limited to the gay male community and spread by "immoral" behavior, Reagan prevented his Surgeon General, C. Everett Koop, from speaking out about the epidemic. When in 1986 Reagan was highly encouraged by many other public officials to authorize Koop to issue a report on the epidemic, he expected it to be in line with conservative policies; instead, Koop's Surgeon General's Report on Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome greatly emphasized the importance of a comprehensive AIDS education strategy, including widespread distribution of condoms, and rejected mandatory testing. This approach brought Koop into conflict with other administration officials such as Education Secretary William Bennett.
Social action groups such as ACT UP worked to raise awareness of the AIDS problem. Because of ACT UP, in 1987, Reagan responded by appointing the Watkins Commission on AIDS, which was succeeded by a permanent advisory council.
At ABC News, you can view the first speech in which then President Ronald Reagan mentioned the AIDS epidemic, dated April 1, 1987. (Note that this was nearly ten years into the crisis.) The speech can be viewedHERE.
Summary: This article, taken out of “The New
England Journal of Medicine” focuses on the medical innovations related with
AIDS in the first 20 years of its discovery. This article is important
because it offers another view on the epidemic, that of the medical community.
It provides a view that is not normally talked about when speaking of AIDS
and Reagan--the denial of this disease, the concern and debates of the blood
banks, the slow awareness that this was an epidemic. There are many
features that accompany this article, including references and articles that
are clearly cited with accompanying links. The purpose of this article is
to provide a factual look at the first 20 years of the AIDS epidemic, with a
focus on the medical aspects.
Evaluation: This is an extremely well written
and well supported resource that accomplishes giving information with little or
no bias. Although this is mainly in part of the medical focus of the
article, the places where emotion is shown is straightforward. As for the
host of the article, “The New England Journal of Medicine” which is an
extremely reputable medical source that frequently publishes medical journals.
The author of this particular article, Kent A. Sepkowitz, lists that he
has an M.D. and provides content information at the end of the article.
This website provides further reading on the subject of AIDS as well as
giving clear links to cited articles, which are recent even though the article
was written a decade ago, showing that this topic has not been neglected.
Summary: This article provides the domestic policies
of Reagan, which includes an overview on his policy of AIDS. This site
provides large amounts of information on Reagan--videos, speeches, overviews of
every policy. It is a very effective site. When one goes to the
Ronald Reagan front page, there are facts at a glance, a list of essays,
speeches, pictures, and videos. This compilation, put together by The
Miller Center at the University of Virgina, is meant to inform people of Reagan
in every way--a full overview.
Evaluation: This site is put together by the
University of Virginia, with the consulting editor for the Reagan section being
Lou Cannon, who has written books on Reagan and has been called Reagan's
definitive biographer. This is an incredibly reputable organization
sponsoring it as well as editor. Sources are not primarily cited, however
the organization and editor ensure for factual information. This site
promotes original thinking.
Summary: This site, created by AVERT, is meant to
inform the reader about AIDS. There is a tab down the side of the page
which shows many articles pertaining to AIDS. The article above, which
talks of AIDS in the 1980s, is particularly efficient in the way that it uses
both factual sources and personal experience sources. The purpose of this
site is to get the bigger picture of AIDS, to look at all the factors that have
contributed to this epidemic.
Evaluation: The only downfall of this site is the
fact that no author is provided. Since AVERT is an organization, in can
be assumed that those in the organization have collaborated and written the
article. Even though no author is provided, all sources are cited in the
links. The links do not go directly to an outside source, however it
gives the source which can be found with a quick search. Any article or
speech mentioned usually has an excerpt, which makes this a very primary source
oriented article, a strength. AVERT is an AIDS charity formed in England
in 1986, a reputable source. This article provides original thinking
through its primary sources and added information about the disease.
Summary: This source is criticizing the show
“The Reagans”, saying that Reagan was not anti gay and providing proof, also
mentioning AIDS and many lies about Reagan and AIDS, providing support through
many sources. The focus is widened, focusing on Regan and his AIDS
policy, Reagan and his view on homosexuality, and critiques on “The Reagans.”
Evaluation: Deroy Murdock is a well known
author who is involved with the “National Review Online.” The National
Review Online is a conservative site which gives conservative news.
Because of this conservative audience, there is a slight bias. But this
bias is subtle, and Murdock provides many cited examples for his claims.
The article gives a general source of information for the article,
however more could have been given.
Summary: Here is a proclamation from Reagan
himself declaring National AIDS month as October of 1988. 1988 was near
the same time that many say Reagan first spoke out about AIDS, and therefore
this is a very important proclamation. This site, The American President,
offers much on Reagan, including a lot of his documents. When going to
the home page, there is a search bar where one can search for particular
Evaluation: There is no way to get to the root of the
problem than to go to the source itself. Since this is a proclamation
written by Reagan himself, it provides a primary source and opportunity to
further dig into his words. The site, The American Presidency Project,
seems to be credible as a host site for this proclamation. The fact that
this site offers many other services searching wise also makes it a credible
Summary: When looking back at the AIDS epidemic
and the policies of Reagan, many view it from a lens that includes present
knowledge. By using articles in the New York Times database, one can
evaluate events from the lens of people of that time. These are articles
that Americans were reading in the middle of this crisis, without outside
knowledge of what we now know. The New York Times site provides a search
bar in which one can search all articles since the formation of the New York
Times as a newspaper. The purpose of this site is to provide factual
information day to day, as well as providing insight into the past. One
can search for articles on Reagan and AIDS, a few of which are provided below.
These articles highlight important moments that may have influenced
Reagan’s decisions pertaining to AIDS.
Evaluation: The New York Times is a highly
reputable newspaper company. It has been around since 1851 and has won
104 Pulitzer Prizes. Although this newspaper is highly reputable, for
older articles at least, there are no credentials for the writers. All
authors of the articles are mentioned in the byline, but for these articles
especially, there is no hyperlink connecting these writers with credentials.
As for the information in the articles, there is a general indication to
the source of information, as names are listed as interview sources, as are
agencies when information is obtained there. Since the purpose of the New
York Times is to provide relevant information , some bias is found, but it
attempts to be as factual as it can while still marketing to the audience.
Even though there are weaknesses to this site, it still provides a
secondary source reaction to events going on and therefore gets closer to the
heart of the motivations of Reagan and his AIDS policies than most sites are
Of particular note: "New Homosexual Disorder Worries Health Officials" This article is one of the
first reports of the disease which was then called GRID (gay-related
immunodeficiency). It emphasizes the lack of knowledge of the disease, as
well as the unknown effects for the future. "Reagan Defends Financing for AIDS" This article shows the
origin of many present complaints of lack of spending for a cure for AIDS in
the 1980s. It presents Reagan’s opinion of the situation as well as
figures for amounts being spent at this time.
Summary: One of the major complaints of AIDS
advocates is that even when Ronald Reagan’s good friend, Rock Hudson, passed
away due to AIDS, little was done in response. This article is from
“People Magazine,” with their article right after Hudson’s death. The
purpose of this article is to provide factual information as to what happened
to Hudson and his death. The focus of the article seems to be a bit
scattered though, as it seems to focus more on Hudson’s sexuality than cause of
death or legacy.
Evaluation: “People Magazine” is not the best
resource to use. It claims to report facts, but this may in fact be a
marketing strategy since it is geared toward celebrity news and therefore
gossip. What makes it even less reputable is lack of credentials on the
author, the article stating “Reported by Jeff Yarbrough and the Chicago, Los
Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Paris bureaus” which shows that this
article was a joint effort and should be taken as a meshing of information.
A slight bias is even shown in the article as the audience of “People
Magazine” are fond of Rock Hudson and apprehensive about homosexuality and
therefore the reporter caters to that bias. What redeems this article is
the inside glimpse it gives of Americans attitudes toward homosexuality at the
time. So much of the article is dedicated to how finding out that Rock
Hudson was gay and had AIDS had affected Americans. This is important in
Reagan’s policy with AIDS because Rock was a close friend, and therefore may
have greatly influenced his following decisions.
Summary: This article, published by “The Jewish Daily
Forward” is a reflection of the AIDS crisis from a modern viewpoint. The
author comments on why Reagan ignored AIDS, focusing on political and personal
reasons while throwing in a bitter bias. It offers a new viewpoint on the
crisis, accusing Reagan of irresponsibility. This source is a good source
because of the fact that it offers a new viewpoint, and simply for that.
The purpose of the article is to criticize the mini-series “The Reagans”
and reveal the political inaccuracies in saying that Reagan ignored AIDS due to
Evaluation: The author has credentials, as he
is a professor at Darthmouth teaching a course specifically about AIDS.
In his article, however, there are a few issues. There are no citations,
even though sources for the article are indicated generally by people’s names
or mention of speeches or articles. The author, however, teaching a
class, can be considered an expert in the field and therefore lack of citations
can be excused. There is also flaw in the bias of the author. Facts
are presented in a bitter manner which makes this article read as an editorial.
The only redemption is that although the author accuses in emotions, he
Summary: This article takes a look at the
retrospect view of Reagan’s death in the gay community. Through many
interviews, the author discerns a general peppering of opinions, further
showing why this is still a tough subject to approach and try to grasp the
motivations of Reagan. This site, when you go to the Bay Windows
homepage, has a search bar where past articles can be found.
Evaluation: Bay Windows is a gay and lesbian
newspaper which has been around since the 1980s. Although this article is
slightly biased due to its audience, it is able to portray two opinions of the
Reagan administration’s actions. The author himself has no credentials
that are available on the site. No sources are used in the article that
would need to be cited, mainly because it contains many interviews. All
interviewees are mentioned by name. This is not a site in which facts
should be taken from, but it does offer perspective and retrospect for the
emotional side of AIDS in the 1980s.