Sunday, March 13, 2016

Hillary and Nancy

There are many folks who, like me, are going to vote for the democratic nominee for president. As for WHO that nominee should be...well...that's a long story. I believe both candidates have great attributes, and both have a few weaknesses they would have to contend with in a general election. I've been supporting Bernie since he entered the race. However, as the primary season moved to my state of Michigan, I wavered.

My Facebook wall was the home of an incredible, civil discourse on the merits of each candidate. I refused comments about why I should NOT vote for someone. I insisted on arguments to vote FOR one of the candidates. I encouraged people to share their passion.

And in the end, I voted for Hillary on Tuesday.

On Friday Hillary said something very stupid.

She praised Nancy Reagan's record on HIV/AIDS.

I've heard lots of explanations about this.

  • The idea that she was conflating AIDS with Alzheimer's just doesn't parse. Her commentary was clearly about HIV/AIDS, and substituting Alzheimer's makes no sense.
  • Apparently MSNBC had made a similar statement in their obit piece. They claimed that Nancy saw the light after her dear friend Rock Hudson died, and worked to get the administration to change its tune. Unfortunately this is just revisionist history, and hard to believe that Hillary would repeat it.
  • She was just trying to be nice to a fellow former first lady on the occasion of Nancy's funeral. While I personally could never say anything nice about Nancy, I understand this. But just leave it at her advocacy for stem cell research, and wasn't that new White House china beautiful.

I was pretty angry about this.

  • In 1981 Nancy Reagan's commentary on New York's Pride Parade was, "What do they have to be proud of? They should be ashamed."
  • In 1984, concerning AIDS, she wondered why there was all this fuss over a self-inflicted venereal disease.
  • Her "Just Say No" campaign flew in the face of everything we know...and knew...about addiction and public health. That alone probably cost thousands of lives.

No I have no love for Nancy. But I understand the need for diplomacy at a funeral. There's a lot that could have been said without causing so much anger and pain to those of us who were living the hell of caring for dying friends, watching them die horrible deaths, shunned by their families, their communities, their churches, their government, and sometimes even their doctors.

Hillary touched a very raw nerve.

I want to get past this, because she will probably be the democratic nominee. (Just stop Bernie Bros. I didn't say anything bad about Bernie. And if he proves me wrong, I'll be supporting him...again....see paragraph one). If she is the nominee, I have to feel good about that.

She apologized almost immediately. She apologized for misspeaking. That's about one step better than the I'm-sorry-you-misunderstood-me type of apology. And certainly better than no apology at all. Her statement was a short apology followed by a laundry list of all she has done for HIV/AIDS in the past, and all she will do in the future.

For me, it fell flat. Many people lauded her for apologizing. The message I kept hearing was "get over it" and "move on". This message was from Hillary supporters, most of whom did not live through the hell I lived through during the reign of Ron and Nancy. (Short sidebar here...My senior recital took place during that time. I commissioned a work by my friend David Colson which he titled "Ronnie's a Jerk, and so are you"). Hillary opened a wound and followed it with a self-serving apology which did nothing to acknowledge the pain her statement caused. You don't get over anger (or hurt...or grief) by being told to "get over it". The first step is acknowledging the pain.

Hillary put out a second apology on Saturday. This is how it starts:
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 AIDS, I understand why. I made a mistake, plain and simple.
I want to use this opportunity to talk not only about where we’ve come from, but where we must go in the fight against HIV and AIDS.
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.
It really is worth reading. It took her a day, but she got it right.

Apology number two was clearly more thoughtful. I'm sure it was run by all the top campaign staff. It may have been penned by someone else (Are Robby Mook's fingerprints on it?). But she did more than apologize. She acknowledged the pain she caused. And (please do read it) she acknowledges the real heroes of the era, including the GMHC and ACT UP.

Am I ready to "get over it"? Well...the whole thing remains a bit unsettling, so I can't say I'm over it. But I am ready to "move on". Hillary created a painful moment, but she has also begun a real healing process.

Kudos to you, Hillary.

Now we can get back to the important work of nominating someone to take on the republican candidate. Whoever is the republican nominee is part of the continuing problem with our public health response to AIDS. We need to restore AIDS education money. We need to make anti-retrovirals affordable for all who need them, both those infected, and those most at-risk for infection.

We have two candidates who have different approaches to that end. We can continue the dialogue about the best approach. But, as Bernie said in an early February debate, "On our worst days, I think it is fair to say, we are 100 times better than any Republican candidate".


Roy Sexton said...

I think the other thing that is interesting in this moment is what it says about a politician to own a mistake and do their level best to correct it. I'm fine with a leader screwing up. Often. If they put ego aside and learn and evolve. That's not flip flopping. That's being human. Her gaffe and recovery stand in stark relief to what the candidates with penises (regardless the size ;) ) are exemplifying, this weekend alone, not to mention the entirety of this circus we are calling a primary. Well-written and thoughtful piece, Keith. Thanks for putting these thoughts into the world.

Joel Vergun said...

Well said, sir, as are most all your blog posts.

Joel Vergun said...

Well said, sir, as are most all your blog posts.

Garima said...