Link to Part One
Part of Reagan's problem in dealing with the AIDS crisis was his insistence on blaming the victims. It was not until the death of one of Reagan's friends, Rock Hudson, did Reagan wake up to true nature of the disease. Unfortunately for the victims, Reagan had surrounded himself with the very people who would encourage this backward thinking.
Not of Facts, But of Values
Elizabeth Taylor thanking Reagan
for his speech
It was on eve of the Third International Conference on AIDS in Washington. He was the invited by Elizabeth Taylor to speak at a fundraiser for the American Foundation for AIDS Research. It was a carefully-worded script in other ways too, aimed at pleasing both his immediate audience as well as his conservative base.
Corporations can help get the information out, so can community and religious groups, and of course so can the schools, with guidance from the parents and with the commitment, I hope, that AIDS education or any aspect of sex education will not be value-neutral. A dean of St. Paul's Cathedral in London once said: "The aim of education is the knowledge not of facts, but of values."As Surgeon General Koop has pointed out, if children are taught their own worth, we can expect them to treat themselves and others with greater respect. And wherever you have self-respect and mutual respect, you don't have drug abuse and sexual promiscuity, which of course are the two major causes of AIDS. Nancy, too, has found from her work that self-esteem is the best defense against drug abuse.
Reagan carried on:
Now, we know there will be those who will go right ahead. So, yes, after there is a moral base, then you can discuss preventives and other scientific measures. And there's another aspect of teaching values that needs to be mentioned here. As individuals, we have a moral obligation not to endanger others, and that can mean endangering others with a gun, with a car, or with a virus.
Nowhere in the speech does he mention greater government funding for AIDS research programs. Despite that, public pressure had had its effect and- despite the conventional wisdom- AIDS funding did indeed double every year, starting at $44 million in 1983 to $922 million in 1987.
With his conservative base, this was not something Reagan was ready to advertise publicly. With a Democrat-dominated House of Representatives, Reagan managed to sign the spending bills that funded the war on AIDS without alarming his conservative base.
For the benefit of the conservatives, he instead proposed measures designed at limiting the spread from outside sources, as if the disease were an enemy attacker and not a domestic problem:
I've asked the Department of Health and Human Services to determine as soon as possible the extent to which the AIDS virus has penetrated our society and to predict its future dimensions. I've also asked HHS to add the AIDS virus to the list of contagious diseases for which immigrants and aliens seeking permanent residence in the United States can be denied entry.
The Illusion of Doing Something
The idea that tightening the borders would have any effect on public safety seems just plain silly.When the disease was spreading inside the country, what was the point? It might have been a better idea to close the borders for Americans leaving their country. Still, it gave the illusion of doing something.
They are presently denied entry for other contagious diseases. I've asked the Department of Justice to plan for testing all federal prisoners, as looking into ways to protect uninfected inmates and their families. In addition, I've asked for a review of other federal responsibilities, such as veterans hospitals, to see if testing might be appropriate in those areas. This is in addition to the testing already underway in our military and foreign service.
As the book, Conduct Unbecoming, by the late San Francisco Chronicle journalist Randy Shilts explains, despite its various witch hunts, anti-gay purges, ill-treatment and court-martial of gays in the military, it was around this time that new HIV regulations were being drawn up in the Pentagon.
The provisions of the regulations were, in many ways, an improvement on the previous policies. True, HIV test results could be used determine security clearances but at least, HIV positive personnel were to be retained and not automatically, dishonorably discharged.
Moreover, the resolution left the Department of Defense with some of the most humane and progressive HIV guidelines to be found anywhere in the United States. Few civilian employers were willing to offer the guarantees of confidentiality and nondiscrimination that were now formal Pentagon policy.
However, there was one more thing to note:
Even as the Defense Department officials enacted their non-discrimination policies, lawyers in the Reagan administration’s Justice Department aggressively opposed enacting similar policies in other government departments. Reagan went on record as being opposed to legislation that would offer employment protection to all HIV-positive Americans. Indeed, it was not until 1992 that the rest of Americans would enjoy the same civil rights that HIV-infected soldiers were guaranteed in 1987.
The Attorney General Edwin Meese in June of 1987 at a press conference called the testing for the deadly AIDS virus "a necessity based on a good sound public health policy" but many feared that, given the influence of Right Wing Christian groups, it was only the first step in mandatory testing of other groups. Where would it lead? some asked.
Darker fears of lists of AIDS patients and forced quarantines were, by no means, hypothetical.
Only a year before this, in July 1986, Lyndon LaRouche had introduced a California ballot initiative, Proposition 64, that aimed at quarantining people living with AIDS while barring them and those at risk from a range of jobs. Proposition 64 lost by a wide margin that November, but the attack it represented was very real.
In a 1986 New York Times op-ed piece, Conservative political commentator William F. Buckley suggested that AIDS sufferers be required to get tattoos on their buttocks to protect other gays. It is hard not to reach the same conclusion as Shilts did.
But then saving lives had never been a priority of the Reagan administration. Reagan’s speech was not meant to serve the public health; it was a political solution to a political problem. The words created a stance that was politically comfortable for the president and his adherents; it was also a stance that killed people. Already, some said that Ronald Reagan would be remembered in history books for one thing beyond all else: He was the man who had let AIDS rage through America, the leader of the government that when challenged to action had placed politics above the health of the American people.”
This was, it seemed, the very best that Reagan and the conservatives could come with when it came to an "effective" policy.
The Rebel with the Quaker Beard
By appearances, Surgeon General C. Everett Koop seemed to be an unlikely rebel. His fierce expression coupled with his Quaker-like beard ironically might remind one of a fire and brimstone preacher of the past.
Perhaps it was for this reason- casting- that Reagan decided that this would be the spokesperson for the administration’s response to the epidemic.
In 1986, President Reagan called upon the surgeon general to draw up a report on AIDS. For the sake of public health, Koop realized that he would have to act boldly. Within the administration, he was to face opposition to addressing the problem, even after five years of the administration doing next to nothing.
Assistant professor of sociology at Rice University, D. Michael Lindsay in the book "Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite" quotes Dr. Koop:
"Gary Bauer [Reagan's chief advisor on domestic policy] ... was my nemesis in Washington because he kept me from the president. He kept me from the cabinet and he set up a wall of enmity between me and most of the people that surrounded Reagan because he believed that anybody who had AIDS ought to die with it. That was God's punishment for them."
The doctor was not so easily thwarted, however. His no-nonsense approach made none of the extremists of either side happy but it was still better than inaction. Koop wrote the official U.S. policy on the disease and took the unprecedented action of mailing AIDS information to every U.S. household.
He gave interviews which stated the problem in often graphic terms. After a year of campaigning for greater awareness and concerted action, he gave this interview to People Magazine in which he as asked about the value of abstinence in preventing AIDS.
Abstinence is the only sure method of preventing AIDS. But abstinence, I think we all know, is not a realistic goal. However, it certainly is a realistic goal for very young people. Then they could look forward to finding a mutually faithful monogamous relationship. But if you have failed at both of those endeavors, you've got to protect yourself with a condom.
He was also not afraid of confronting the dread and fears with the best information available at that time. He was also asked about what some saw as insufficient funding. Here was his extremely political answer.
And yet the Administration's 1988 budget request of $534 million is only half of what some experts recommend. Do you think the Administration has requested sufficient funding?I think so. For this year. I'm very pleased that there's a 28 percent increase in the AIDS budget and that 25 percent of that whole budget goes to public education. I'm sure there will be more next year and more the year after that. There's no doubt that it has to go up because we are facing a problem that we can fight only with education and information.
In a later interview conducted by Wheaton College, Koops candidly described the kind of mentality he was up against.
A huge number of conservatives in this country said [homosexuals] deserve what they got. Just ignore them and let them die. Well, you can't be a doctor and do that and you can not be the Surgeon General and do that. I am the Surgeon General for the moral and immoral, the males and the females, you know, and you treat them as any patient that comes to you for help. And if I had known more about what the Surgeon General was supposed to do I probably would have been too timid to do some of the things that I did.
The Great Wall of Enmity
Reagan could have chosen to end the homophobic rhetoric that flowed from so many in his administration. Dr. C. Everett Koop, Reagan's surgeon general, has said that because of "intradepartmental politics" he was cut out of all AIDS discussions for the first five years of the Reagan administration.
The reason, he explained, was "because transmission of AIDS was understood to be primarily in the homosexual population and in those who abused intravenous drugs." The president's advisers, Koop said, "took the stand, 'They are only getting what they justly deserve.' "
Contrary to the Koop’s charge against certain members of the cabinet, Edwin Meese- the former Attorney General and presidential 'counselor,’ remembers it quite differently.
"I can remember numerous sessions of the domestic-policy council where the surgeon general provided information to us, and the questions were not whether the federal government would get involved, but what would be the best way.
There was support for research through the NIH. There also were questions about the extent to which public warnings should be sent out. It was a question of how the public would respond to fairly explicit warnings about fairly explicit things. Ultimately, warnings were sent out."
What can explain this discrepancy of memories? Perhaps the answers lies in the fact that Meese, like Gary Bauer, is a long-time member of the Council for National Policy. Media critic at New York University Mark Crispin Miller called CNP a "highly secretive... theocratic organization -- what they want is basically religious rule."
The man Dr. Koop named as his chief nemesis in the Reagan administration was Gary Bauer, who served in a variety of positions during those years.
From 1982 to 1987, Bauer was the Undersecretary of Education. Despite having no background in education, his appointment typified Reagan’s overall trend of hiring based not on qualifications but on shared interests.
One of those interests was the push for allowing prayer in public schools. In 1982, on the National Day of Prayer. President Reagan told an audience,
“I also believe this blessed land was set apart in a very special way, a country created by men and women came here not in search of gold but in search of God. Sometimes it seems we've strayed from that noble beginning, from our conviction that standards of right and wrong do exist and must be lived up to. God, the source of our knowledge, has been expelled from the classroom..."
On May 17, 1982, Reagan submitted a Constitutional school prayer amendment to Congress to restore, "the simple freedom of our citizens to offer prayer in our public school and institutions. He was deeply disappointed when it fell eleven votes short of the special two-thirds majority needed to win in the Senate. As the book God's Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right explains:
Reagan's efforts on school prayer won him the long-standing gratitude of the conservative evangelicals and endeared them to the Republican party.
It was enough to win the support of the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition in the 1984 election. Eighty percent of the evangelicals who went to the polls that year voted for Reagan.
Later In February of 1986, Attorney General Meese, in his capacity as Chairman of the White House Domestic Policy requested Bauer chair a working group on ways that government could support families.
The report that came out of it, The Family. Preserving America's Future, was pretty much one expects from bureaucracy, pages of support of administration views and some very general recommendations. It was, however, enough to attract the president’s attention.
On January 30, 1987, President Reagan announced that U.S. Education Undersecretary Gary L. Bauer would now be serving as his adviser on domestic policy. It was in this capacity, according to Dr. Koop, that Bauer was able to exert influence over the president and thwart his attempts to deal realistically with the AIDS crisis.
We Are Family
By 1988, Bauer had decided to leave the Reagan administration when he was offered a position as the president of the Family Research Council. Bauer's resignation marked the end of the Christian rights meddling in national policy. At least, directly.
By this time, Attorney General Meese had been forced to step down as a result of a scandal. (The scandal involved alleged financial improprieties including a Bechtel pipeline deal in Iraq, Saddam Hussein, Israel and Donald Rumsfeld.)
Actually, Bauer’s resignation from the White House was something of a neat arrangement- a regular square dance of the Evangelicals.
Bauer took over the position at FRC when its then-CEO, president and co-founder, Gerald P. "Jerry" Regier was appointed to the National Commission on Children, an advisory body in the United States Department of Health and Human Services on children's issues.
It was an example of a revolving door relationship between conservative religious groups and the Reagan administration.
So what was the Family Research Council anyway? you might ask. Family Research Council which actually conducts no research whatsoever, is a right-wing Christian group and lobbying organization.
The idea of the Family Research Council originated at the 1980 White House Conference on Families brought together not by Ronald Reagan but by President Carter. He had “called this conference because he believed that official America had lost touch with family America.”
The historic event involved 14 days of hearings and over 500 forums and conference and “sought to close this gap by bringing together scholars, public officials and leaders of the religious and community groups, and most important, American families.”
The main driving force behind the formation of the FCR in 1981 was American evangelical Christian author, psychologist, James Dobson. Although never an ordained minister, he was called "the nation's most influential evangelical leader" by Time. The organization’s view on homosexuality was unequivocal.
"Homosexuality," according to FRC,
"is unhealthy, immoral and destructive to individuals, families and societies. Compassion- not bigotry- impels us to support healing for homosexuals who want to change their sexual preferences. FRC opposes any attempts to equate homosexuality with benign characteristics such as skin color or place of origin and to teach children that it is normal and desirable behavior."
Much of the organization’s scientific underpinnings came from one of its co-founders, George Alan Rekers, an American psychologist and ordained Southern Baptist minister.
He would make a name for himself by giving expert testimony against adoptive parenthood by gay and lesbian couples in a number of court cases. (He was reportedly paid at least $60,000- and perhaps as much as $87,000- by the office of Florida attorney general Bill McCollum to defend the state's ban on adoption by gay couples.)
Additionally, he was an officer and scientific advisor for the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), which endorses the scientifically unsupported notion that gays can be “rehabilitated” and returned to heterosexually normal.
Notably, Reker’s career self-destructed in technicolor when it was revealed that his traveling companion on a two-week vacation in Europe was, in fact, a male escort. During his ten-day sojourn with "Lucien" to London and Madrid, he had no lectures scheduled. (Any reference to Reker has been washed clean from FRC’s website.) His excuse that the young man was only accompanying him because a back problem had left him unable to lift his suitcases was met with polite silence.
By the mid-1990s, under Bauer’s leadership, the Family Research Council had grown into a $10 million operation with a nationwide network of support.
Today Bauer and the FRC remain influential, and he speaks openly about his abhorrence to all aspects of gayness. If anything, more politically influential today than it was in Reagan’s time. Certainly, its leaders, past and present, are more outspoken and sensational.FRC's main focus is on homosexuality, abortion, pornography, "freedom" of education, and "judicial tyranny" (right-wing lingo for court decisions they don't like). On these issues FRC supplies a steady stream of pseudoscience, slanted statistics, half-truths and lies to the media and the Congress. Thanks to right-wing lawmakers on Capitol Hill, FRC "experts" are allowed to spread "the truth " in congressional hearings on a regular basis.
Recently, for instance, the FRC took arms against Girls Scouts. (Threatening little girls, some might say, is pretty much part and parcel of what the organization is all about.)
The Family Research Council boasted that as a result of their pressure campaign against the Girl Scouts “their cookie sales are suffering.” The FRC has long attacked the Girl Scouts over discredited allegations that the Girl Scouts work with Planned Parenthood to promote “casual sex” and train girls about living with HIV. Ironically, while the FRC is hounding the Girl Scouts over the unfounded charges, the group criticized the tactics of “Planned Parenthood’s activist machine” which put pressure on the Susan. G. Komen for the Cure Foundation to restore ties with the women’s health organization.
Although “none of the money” from Girl Scout cookie sales “is given to any other group,” that hasn’t stopped FRC from asking for prayers against the Girl Scouts. The prayer alert says the “Scouts had better confess their errors” and stop “collaborating with Planned Parenthood.”
It should come as no great surprise that Bauer has given his full support to Rick Santorum in this year’s presidential election.
In Santorum, Gary Bauer has no doubt found a kindred spirit. Need proof?
In 2008, Santorum spoke to faculty and students of Ave Maria University, saluting them for producing class after class of warriors for God.
"This is not a political war, it is not a cultural war; it's a spiritual war, " he told his audience. "Things are so bad and you are here," he said triumphantly. "God has chosen you to be here in a time when he needs soldiers the most; congratulations!"
The Point is not History
One of the more unfortunate aspects of studying history is the fact that we shall never know about the history that never happened.
We are therefore unable to say what might have happened if Reagan had not been so completely indebted to the Religious Right and organizations like the Moral Majority.
We cannot know what would have occurred had he not had advisers like Bauer, Bennet or Meese. We can never know what the results of a swift and concerted plan of action in the early stages of the AIDS crisis might have reaped. It did not happen.
Instead, we are left with the reality. We have only what actually happened. A global epidemic in which, since its beginning of the epidemic, nearly 30 million people have died from AIDS-related causes.
That is the history but from history, the wise can learn lessons. What of that? What are the lessons?
The story of the AIDS crisis and the way the Reagan administration handled (or mishandled) is a serious warning about the consequences of allowing religious groups with narrow or prejudicial views to have excessive influence inside the decision -making process of the president.
It is, as we have seen, a recipe for disaster.