Obama on Ebola (inspiring) versus horrible Reagan on AIDS (cowardly)

Obama on Ebola (inspiring) versus horrible Reagan on AIDS (cowardly)

[Ed. – This reason-free rant is Slate’s most-shared post today.  Go figure.]

Barack Obama displayed inspiring leadership on Friday. He also promoted public health, fought bigotry, and helped calm raging paranoia. His heroic act? He hugged somebody.

Nina Pham, the first person to be infected with Ebola within the United States, had just been declared disease-free and discharged from the National Institutes of Health. Obama is a rational, science-friendly guy, so he knew she wasn’t any danger to him. It didn’t take courage to hug her.

And yet, another modern president failed a similar test. Facing the greatest public health crisis of his administration, Ronald Reagan was not heroic. He was a dithering coward.

The hateful, homophobic, racist response to the AIDS crisis is one of the most shameful episodes in recent American history. Within a few years after the first AIDS cases were reported in 1981, scientists knew the disease was transmitted primarily by sex, blood transfusions, and shared needles. …

Ronald Reagan? He didn’t do a goddamn thing. He was president when the first cases were reported. He was president when Congress, the National Academies of Science, and anybody with a sick loved one or a conscience called for the federal government to do more to fight the medical and social crisis. He let his reprehensible press secretary Larry Speakes, Reagan’s face to the media, repeatedly joke about AIDS. …

Reagan said nothing about AIDS for a full six years after the crisis began. …

When people are governed by fear, the most important thing a president can do is be calm, clear, and compassionate. This is why a hug matters. It was an intentional photo-op to demonstrate that people with Ebola and their contacts shouldn’t be shunned and stigmatized. This disease is treatable if we act based on science rather than superstition, xenophobia, victim-blaming, and panic.  The hug was a message that we must and we can stop this terrible disease. It’s the kind of message Ronald Reagan should have sent three decades ago.

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