Nancy and Hillary,

Nancy and Hillary, AIDS History Through a Bubble

IF YOU want to know why AIDS was allowed to explode into the crises that killed a generation of gay men you need look no further than President Ronald Reagan. The American political elite ignored a raging epidemic while multiple tens of thousands of men died.

Yesterday, at Nancy Reagan’s funeral, I said something inaccurate when speaking about the Reagans’ record on HIV and AIDS. Since then, I’ve heard from countless people who were devastated by the loss of friends and loved ones, and hurt and disappointed by what I said. As someone who has also lost friends and loved ones to H.I.V./AIDS, I understand why. I made a mistake, plain and simple. – Hillary Clinton [Medium]

If you want to understand Secretary Clinton’s spectacularly ignorant remark said in the throes of the Nancy Davis Reagan’s funeral you have to accept the bubble in which she lives, not only in Arkansas when the AIDS epidemic roared but also today.

Hillary Clinton is 68-years-old, which renders all reasons for the remark down to one. What happened in during the 1980s didn’t touch her in any way that marked her life in a way that she would remember it.

I’ve stewed on her statement praising the Reagans for days…pushing it out of my mind every time it returns. Reminding myself that her “evolution” on marriage equality that mimics so many other politicians is just the way we experience progress.

Except that AIDS is different, very, very different.

Larry Kramer’s initial reaction via Slate

I wonder if Hillary had any notion of how hateful what she said is to so many people who were going to support her. For the first time I really questioned whether I’m going to vote for her.

[Nancy] never said dipshit! And she … oh please, don’t get me started. She and Ronnie weren’t going to, in any way, talk about AIDS because they have a ballet dancer son whom the world believes to be gay and which they don’t want to confront.

I’m just so disappointed in her that I may just vote for Bernie. And I’m hearing that from a lot of gay people. The gay population is up in arms over this. I don’t think that she realizes that this is a big issue for us, what she has said in her stupidity.

I think the gay population is entitled to an apology and that we should demand an apology in return for our vote and support.

Playwright Larry Kramer broke through for me because when I was working on Broadway in 1980 the AIDS virus — though it wasn’t called that at the time — was already whipping through the ranks of the best and brightest performers of the era. Rumors swirling about leading lights of the Broadway community already fighting Kaposi’s Sarcoma. The great Michael Bennett rumored to have been stricken with the deadly disease while denials roared back because of the dire stigma it engendered.

All of this as the dawn cracked on the Reagan administration that promised to return America to that shining city on a hill. When Ronald Reagan was elected nobody in America had heard of the disease that would change the lives of so many Americans and cripple an entire community, forever fracturing the Reagan legacy.

Except Hillary Clinton had forgotten it all in a compliment for a sister first lady and her husband, all members of the most exclusive club of all.

By the time I’d moved to California in the mid-80s the country was roiling over the H.I.V./AIDS epidemic.

Chris was one of the first people to try to get help in California health care system at the time, a dear friend. Diagnosed with Kaposi’s Sarcoma early, he got lucky and survived. But I’ll never forget when he came home from attempting to get state aid at the time. I waited in his apartment for him because we were both worried how he’d survive without it. When he walked through the door he was shell-shocked. He shrieked for me to stay away or I’d “catch it.” His treatment that day, he explained, included people running from the room and leaving him alone. It took a lot of talking and touching to pull my friend of the ceiling of his panic and into my arms.

Dan was a different story. It’s a long time ago too but I’ll never forget his farewell party. He couldn’t bring himself to take the drugs in the early ’90s, so he chose a different route. We celebrated his life then said goodbye. The loss more grave than I can share.

My dear friend Wendell who invited me to his place one night to have cocktails, dropping the bomb that he had AIDS. The collapse of us both in each other’s arms as we cried. He’s living well and the thing that will finally kill him isn’t the disease but the cocktail cure.

Secretary Clinton’s offensive praise of the Reagans on AIDS is the result of being inside the elite bubble but also evidence to me of not experiencing the disease first hand in the 1980s. It is a case of bipartisan blasphemy devoid of historical context or any inkling of the horrific indifference of deep suffering within the American fabric. She simply had no memory attached deep enough to her psyche to understand, to be worth remembering.

As I look across the web at reactions to Hillary Clinton’s quick reversal, apology and her piece on Medium, it’s clear that most people of the gay community are satisfied now. People like Larry Kramer lead the way in accepting Mrs. Clinton’s apology, which is so important for her.

What the whole event reveals to me is what’s been the problem with Clinton’s 2016 campaign from the start. Words and memory with no connection to the emotions that historical events elicit from those who saw it unfold.

During Nancy Davis Reagan’s funeral, for Secretary Clinton, the band was still playing on.