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Reagan Debunked Huckabee's AIDS Bigotry - in 1987

December 9, 2007

Like all of the 2008 Republican White House hopefuls, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is quick to claim the mantle of Ronald Reagan. But when it came to the AIDS crisis, President Ronald Reagan was positively enlightened compared to the extremist Senate candidate Huckabee years later. As it turns out, everything Mike Huckabee argued in response to the AIDS epidemic in 1992 - quarantining victims, blaming gay Americans, decrying federal funding to fight the disease - Ronald Reagan himself debunked in 1987.
As the Washington Post reported Saturday, Senate hopeful Mike Huckabee in 1992 advocated the isolation of AIDS patients. Labeling homosexuality "an aberrant, unnatural, and sinful lifestyle" which could "pose a dangerous public health risk," Huckabee called for draconian - and discriminatory - action:

"If the federal government is truly serious about doing something with the AIDS virus, we need to take steps that would isolate the carriers of this plague.
It is difficult to understand the public policy towards AIDS. It is the first time in the history of civilization in which the carriers of a genuine plague have not been isolated from the general population, and in which this deadly disease for which there is no cure is being treated as a civil rights issue instead of the true health crisis it represents.
In light of the extraordinary funds already being given for AIDS research, it does not seem that additional federal spending can be justified. An alternative would be to request that multimillionaire celebrities, such as Elizabeth Taylor (,) Madonna and others who are pushing for more AIDS funding be encouraged to give out of their own personal treasuries increased amounts for AIDS research."

How ironic, then, that five years earlier in 1987 Ronald Reagan shared the stage with Elizabeth Taylor at a dinner honoring the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR). There, Reagan refuted every point Huckabee would later make, even anticipating the kind of faith-based fear-mongering the former minister would later offer up:

"As dangerous and deadly as AIDS is, many of the fears surrounding it are unfounded. These fears are based on ignorance. I was told of a newspaper photo of a baby in a hospital crib with a sign that said, 'AIDS -- Do Not Touch.' Fortunately, that photo was taken several years ago, and we now know there's no basis for this kind of fear. But similar incidents are still happening elsewhere in this country. I read of one man with AIDS who returned to work to find anonymous notes on his desk with such messages as, 'Don't use our water fountain.' I was told of a situation in Florida where 3 young brothers -- ages 10, 9, and 7 -- were all hemophiliacs carrying the AIDS virus. The pastor asked the entire family not to come back to their church. Ladies and gentlemen, this is old-fashioned fear, and it has no place in the home of the brave.
The Public Health Service has stated that there's no medical reason for barring a person with the virus from any routine school or work activity. There's no reason for those who carry the AIDS virus to wear a scarlet A. AIDS is not a casually contagious disease...
...In addition to all the private and corporate research underway here at home and around the world, this fiscal year the federal government plans to spend $317 million on AIDS research and $766 million overall. Next year we intend to spend 30 percent more on research: $413 million out of $1 billion overall. Spending on AIDS has been one of the fastest growing parts of the budget, and, ladies and gentlemen, it deserves to be."

That address in May 1987 represented the culmination of a long journey for Ronald Reagan. As I wrote in "Reagan and Bush in the Age of AIDS," less than two years earlier, President Reagan in September 1985 only fueled the growing panic of American parents seeking to remove afflicted students such as Ryan White from their childrens' schools. Heeding the counsel of his adviser the future Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts (who argued "I would not like to see the President reassuring the public on this point"), a clearly uncomfortable Reagan told the audience at a press conference:

"I'm glad I'm not faced with that problem today and I can well understand the plight of the parents and how they feel about it...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 have to do the best we can with this problem. I can understand both sides of it."

Not wanting to anger his allies on the Christian right when it came to the "gay plague," Reagan remained silent on AIDS throughout most of his presidency. In what would be the first high-impact celebrity intervention among Republicans, it took that plea from Elizabeth Taylor to get Ronald Reagan to deliver the AMFAR speech in 1987. Only then did he finally begin to get the science - and the public policy - right.
Which is a lot more than can be said for Mike Huckabee. Facing a firestorm of criticism this weekend for his dangerously misguided and hate-filled comments in 1992, Huckabee turned to revisionist history for his defense:

"We now know that the virus that causes AIDS is spread differently, with a lower level of contact than with TB. But looking back almost 20 years, my concern was the uncertain risk to the general population -- if we got it wrong, many people would die needlessly. My concern was safety first, political correctness last.
The AIDS crisis was just that - a crisis. We didn't know exactly all the details of how extensive it was going to be. There was just a real panic in this country. If I were making those same comments today, I might make them a little differently."

Of course, the extremist Mike Huckabee could have gotten it right on AIDS in 1992. He just had to ask Ronald Reagan.
UPDATE: As ThinkProgress reported, Huckabee appeared on Fox News this morning and refused to "recant" or "run from" his words in 1992.

2 comments on “Reagan Debunked Huckabee's AIDS Bigotry - in 1987”

  1. You know Huckabee is a fundie freak when he makes a disaster like Reagan seem sensible on AIDS.
    Thanks for digging that up.

  2. I always begin to wonder how it is that politicians are able to get away with some of the things they say. Then it occurs to me that they are normal people just like us, and believe me, I have found myself saying very stupid things (I think of myself as a decently intelligent person).
    What I always have difficulty extrapolating from a politicians public personality, is whether or not they TRULY want to make a difference. You can usually come to a sense of that when you look at how easily swayed they are on issue (i.e. Reagan and homosexuality). Fundamentally we are all looking for that hope that a politician will give us the social justice we all so desire. Huckabee fills that gap for some. Frank Rich had it right in yesterday's NYTimes: The Republicans Find Their Obama (you may have to login).


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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