The Reagans' legacy on HIV/AIDS is not as rosy as Clinton remembered

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The Reagans' Legacy on HIV/AIDS Is Not as Rosy as Clinton Remembered

"Because of both President and Mrs. Reagan, in particular Mrs. Reagan, we started a national conversation," presidential candidate and former first lady Hillary Clinton said Friday.

Before former first lady Nancy Reagan was buried Friday, Hillary Clinton praised the Reagans for their "low-key advocacy" during the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. But it seems like Clinton is in the minority.

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After she made the comment, social media blew up with people confused, angry and offended by it. And the Internet outrage seems well-placed because the Reagans have a very, let's call it complicated, legacy with HIV/AIDS.

President Reagan didn't give a speech on the disease until 1987, pretty close to the end of his second term and about six years after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began noting the disease. The White House's response to the epidemic has been widely criticized as homophobic and coming way too late.

A short film on White House press briefings about the AIDS epidemic seems to show almost nonchalance from the administration.

"Is the president concerned about this subject, Larry?" a reporter asked Reagan's press secretary.
Larry Speakes answers, "I haven't heard him express concern."

"No, but I mean is he going to do anything, Larry?"

"Lester, I haven't heard him express anything, sorry ..."

Nancy Reagan's friend and actor Rock Hudson, who was dying of AIDS in 1985, reportedly asked the first lady for help in getting better treatment to fight the disease; she denied his request for help. But historians do credit Nancy Reagan with pushing her husband to get funding for AIDS research.

"I think she deserves credit for opening up the AIDS money, but I could never say that without saying they never would have waited this long if it was red-headed sixth-graders," historian Allida Black said.

But it's pretty obvious to critics of the Reagans that the federal government's reaction to HIV/AIDS could have and should have happened much sooner.

Clinton has since apologized for the comments:

The video above includes clips from CNN and C-SPAN.

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The Reagans' legacy on HIV/AIDS is not as rosy as Clinton remembered
The casket of US former First Lady Nancy Reagan is carried to her funeral service on March 11, 2016, at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. AFP PHOTO/FREDERIC J. BROWN / AFP / FREDERIC J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
The casket carrying Nancy Reagan arrives for the funeral service at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Friday, March 11, 2016 in Simi Valley, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
A security officer stands guard before the funeral service for Nancy Reagan at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Friday, March 11, 2016 in Simi Valley, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger arrives for the funeral service for Nancy Reagan at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Friday, March 11, 2016 in Simi Valley, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Former President George W. Bush, left, and Hillary Clinton arrive at the funeral service for Nancy Reagan at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Friday, March 11, 2016 in Simi Valley, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
SIMI VALLEY CA MARCH 11: Actor Tom Selleck arrives for funeral services being held for former first lady Nancy Reagan at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library March 11, 2016 in Simi Valley. Mrs Reagan will be buried next to her husband on the property. (Photo by Irfan Khan-Pool/Getty Images)
SIMI VALLEY CA MARCH 11: Larry King and his wife Shawn King arrive for funeral services being held for former first lady Nancy Reagan at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library March 11, 2016 in Simi Valley. Mrs Reagan will be buried next to her husband on the property. (Photo by Irfan Khan-Pool/Getty Images)
SIMI VALLEY, CA MARCH 11: First lady Michelle Obama, center, arrives with former President George Bush and his wife, Laura Bush, right, and Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown and his wife, Anne Gust, left, for funeral services being held for former first lady Nancy Reagan at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library March 11, 2016 in Simi Valley, California. Mrs. Reagan will be buried next to her husband on the property. (Photo by Irfan Khan-Pool/Getty Images)
The Reverend Stuart A. Kenworthy (R) watches as the casket of US former First Lady Nancy Reagan is carried to her funeral service on March 11, 2016, at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. AFP PHOTO/FREDERIC J. BROWN / AFP / FREDERIC J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney speaks during the funeral service for Nancy Reagan at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Friday, March 11, 2016 in Simi Valley, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Opera singer Ana Maria Martinez sings Ave Maria during the funeral service for Nancy Reagan at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Friday, March 11, 2016 in Simi Valley, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Diane Sawyer speaks during the funeral service for Nancy Reagan at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Friday, March 11, 2016 in Simi Valley, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
The Santa Susana High School Choir sings during funeral services, as US former First Lady Nancy Reagan is laid to rest next to her husband, former US President Ronald Reagan, on March 11, 2016, at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. AFP PHOTO/FREDERIC J. BROWN / AFP / FREDERIC J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
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