The perils of feeling the need to praise the dead


Pretty much everyone knows that Hillary Clinton put her foot in it when she praised Nancy Reagan after her death, listing as one of her accomplishments that she helped start a national conversation over AIDS. This created a serious backlash by those well aware that the Reagans, while in the White House, not only did not do anything about it until his final year in office, but that White House press briefings, when responding to questions about the issue, became chuckle-fests with innuendo and snide references to the ‘gay plague’.

Clinton has quickly moved to apologize for her mistake, though many are still wondering how she could have got so wrong something that was so strongly resented about the Reagans in the LGBT community and is so well known. JE Reich provides a timeline of Clinton’s gaffe and subsequent apology.

I think that this is emblematic of Clinton’s desire to be all things to all people, such as her ambivalent stand on labor rights, serving on the board of union-busting Walmart and now opposing trade deals that she once supported.

In this case, I think she also fell prey to what is a common temptation, to reach for anything good to say about the dead, that I wrote about in reference to the eulogies delivered for justice Antonin Scalia. People tend to go overboard at such times, not just talking about the good and ignoring the bad but painting over the bad with a false picture.

I am sure that when Henry Kissinger or Dick Cheney die, there will be those who will praise them as statesmen when they have the blood of millions on their hands. And I expect the Clintons to be among them.

Comments

  1. lorn says

    On the subject of the Reagan and AIDS it is a mixed bag.

    Yes, largely under the influence of a flock of evangelical preachers the initial response to AIDS was to dismiss it and, perhaps, frame it as divine retribution. There was a whole lot of that going around. Including a joke I remember about how stopping AIDS was simple: keep your mouth shut and sit on your ass. It wasn’t really funny back then, and it hasn’t aged well either.

    People forget how much more ubiquitous Pat Robertson and Anita Brant were back then. For a lot of people there were still only four TV channels and one of them was 24/7 Christian evangelical propaganda.

    Scan. Also, look near the bottom, and find Kissinger:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1983_in_American_television

    Ronnie and Nancy were slow to react and initial reactions were backward. But after some criticism they changed views and changed priorities. I suspect that, given his generation, any mention of sex in public was fraught. Anything associated with gay sex even more so. That said he wasn’t necessarily so shy about allocating money.

    “Supporters of Reagan past and present have pointed out the fact that he declared in the aforementioned September 1985 press conference that he wanted from Congress massive government research effort against AIDS similar to one President Nixon had overseen against cancer. Reagan said, “It’s been one of the top priorities with us, and over the last 4 years, and including what we have in the budget for ’86, it will amount to over a half a billion dollars that we have provided for research on AIDS in addition to what I’m sure other medical groups are doing.” He also remarked, “Yes, there’s no question about the seriousness of this and the need to find an answer.” Annual AIDS related funding was $8 million in 1983, 2 years after he took office, and was $1.6 billion in 1988, an increase of over 1000 percent”

    From: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domestic_policy_of_the_Ronald_Reagan_administration

    As with so many things you can take a snapshot of history and characterize a person, or you can step back and realize people are not so easy to characterize and that we are all still learning and trying. Nancy Reagan was no saint, but she did learn and grow. It is not unexpected that people would remember the good things.

  2. says

    Don’t forget that while Nancy Reagan was saying “just say No!” she was addicted to Seconal, Quaaludes, Librium and Valium.

    She was just another hypocrite oligarch, in other words. Why say anything nice about her after she’s dead? She grabbed what she wanted and did whatever she enjoyed while she was alive.

  3. lorn says

    “She was just another hypocrite oligarch, in other words. Why say anything nice about her after she’s dead? She grabbed what she wanted and did whatever she enjoyed while she was alive.”

    I don’t know … perhaps we can just remain blind to the humanity in others and fail to see both the good and bad. If we push it hard enough we can both vilify our opponents as monsters, and begin a witch hunt in our own ranks to enforce ever tighter standards of ideological purity. Won’t that be fun?

    You are entirely free to debate the relative merits of policy like “Just Say No” compared to other alternatives, like harm reduction. There is some utility in that debate. Or you can condemn human beings for being human, imperfect, flawed. The first implies a path to knowledge and building a better society based on prior science, the later, an endless struggle where each succeeding generation is too busy condemning the earlier one to learn from its success and failures.

    I didn’t particularly like how the projects most associated with Nancy Reagan where undertaken, but that has far more to do with their simple lack of effectiveness in solving the problems she was seeking to solve, than any objection to the goals.

  4. says

    Marcus Ranum (#3) –

    Don’t forget that while Nancy Reagan was saying “just say No!” she was addicted to Seconal, Quaaludes, Librium and Valium.

    There’s also the fact that Nonsense and Ronnie Raygun were as much hypocrites and revisionists of their own history as is Hilla-republican. They did all they could ensure HIV/AIDS hurt the gay community, only showing concern for those who contracted HIV from non-sexual incidents like blood transfusion like Ryan White. They were more concerned about promoting alzheimers treatments for their own benefit than a disease that threatened millions.

  5. Holms says

    There’s also the fact that Nonsense and Ronnie Raygun were as much hypocrites and revisionists of their own history as is Hilla-republican.

    Are you 14?

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