Hillary Clinton on the Reagans: Follow-Up

[Content Note: HIV/AIDS stigma; homophobia.]

On Friday, Hillary Clinton attended former First Lady Nancy Reagan's funeral and ahistorically and harmfully commended her and President Reagan for their position on HIV/AIDS.

She quickly issued an apology: "While the Reagans were strong advocates for stem cell research and finding a cure for Alzheimer's disease, I misspoke about their record on HIV and AIDS. For that, I'm sorry."

A longer statement came later, and that statement can be read in full at Medium. Two points I want to highlight:

1. Clinton fully retracts saying that the Reagans started a national conversation on HIV/AIDS and gives credit where credit is actually due:
To be clear, the Reagans did not start a national conversation about HIV and AIDS. That distinction belongs to generations of brave lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, along with straight allies, who started not just a conversation but a movement that continues to this day.

The AIDS crisis in America began as a quiet, deadly epidemic. Because of discrimination and disregard, it remained that way for far too long. When many in positions of power turned a blind eye, it was groups like ACT UP, Gay Men's Health Crisis and others that came forward to shatter the silence — because as they reminded us again and again, Silence = Death. They organized and marched, held die-ins on the steps of city halls and vigils in the streets. They fought alongside a few courageous voices in Washington, like U.S. Representative Henry Waxman, who spoke out from the floor of Congress.

Then there were all the people whose names we don't often hear today — the unsung heroes who fought on the front lines of the crisis, from hospital wards and bedsides, some with their last breath. Slowly, too slowly, ignorance was crowded out by information. People who had once closed their eyes opened their hearts.

If not for those advocates, activists, and ordinary, heroic people, we would not be where we are in preventing and treating HIV and AIDS. Their courage — and their refusal to accept silence as the status quo — saved lives.
2. Clinton calls for a number of items that would benefit people with and/or researching HIV/AIDS, including this: "We should call on states to reform outdated and stigmatizing HIV criminalization laws." Yes. It's easy to call for more funding; it's a little bit tougher (apparently) for politicians to call for these reforms.

In my piece about the metrics I use to assess presidential candidates, I wrote: "I look at how capable they seem of being able to pivot, when they are proven wrong. I look at their willingness to be accountable for mistakes and fuck-ups and endorsements of shitty policy. I look at the quality of their apologies, and whether they are willing to apologize at all."

Clinton's statement isn't exactly what I wanted, but she acknowledged that she "hurt and disappointed" people and that she "understands why." She acknowledged the misplaced credit, and where it actually belongs. She listened and committed to doing better.

No one else needs to share my opinion, but the fact that Clinton was willing to apologize, to talk frankly about how getting it wrong was hurtful, and to resolve to do better means something to me. I certainly wish she'd never made this mistake, for whatever reason(s) she made it, but perfection is an unreasonable standard.

I appreciate her willingness to address this straightforwardly and meaningfully.

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