In the recent film “The Butler,” President Reagan is depicted as remarking to his wife Nancy that AIDS is God’s punishment for homosexuality. (Nancy Reagan is played by Jane Fonda in a deeply offensive casting choice.) There is no evidence that Reagan ever said anything remotely similar. As a leading film actor and later president of the Screen Actors’ Guild, Reagan surely had frequent contact with gays. There is no evidence that he ever expressed hostility, much less hatred. On the contrary, he counted gays among his friends, and a lesbian couple baby-sat his children.
In the current film “Philomena,” based on a true story, an elderly Irishwoman seeks her son, who was adopted against her will and taken to America. It turns out that her son was gay and died of AIDS. He had been an attorney and achieved high office, working in the White House for both President Reagan and President Bush the Elder.
But wait – how could the old lady discover who her son was, only to learn that he worked with evil Republicans? What a tragedy that would be. If her son had worked with the Mafia or the drug cartels, she might have been able to deal with the news. But work with Republicans, as the man in question actually did? No way!
To counter this factual information, the protagonist, playing a real journalist who helped the woman find her son, remarks that the son was conflicted about working for Reagan – who “cut funding for AIDS research.” However, in a newspaper article, the journalist claims that it was Bush the Elder who cut AIDS funding. As the saying goes, if you’re going to lie, you need a good memory.
The attached table shows federal AIDS funding for each year during the time in question. AIDS was first identified as a new disease in mid-1981, Reagan’s first year in office. He couldn’t have “cut” AIDS funding, because of course there wasn’t any before the disease was identified. As the table shows, AIDS funding went up every year of Reagan’s presidency, from 1981 to 1989. And it continued to go up each year of the presidency of Bush the Elder, from 1989 to 1993.
Funding also went up during the presidency of Bush the Younger. In addition, Bush 43 initiated a huge program to combat AIDS in Africa. When did you last hear AIDS activists or gay activists mention that fact? Oh wait, I almost forgot – many AIDS activists and gay activists are progressives first and activists second.
That either Reagan or Bush 41 “cut” AIDS funding is thus a lie. It is a big lie. AIDS was first identified as a new disease in mid-1981. In 1984, the AIDS or HIV virus was discovered jointly by American and French scientists. In 1985, a blood test for HIV was developed. Also in 1985, AZT, the first drug to show activity against HIV, was tested, and it was approved by the FDA in 1987.
In all of medical history, from ancient Egypt until today, I am unaware of such a rapid pace of events for any other newly discovered disease: (1) identification of the causative agent, (2) development of a blood test for infected patients, and (3) discovery of an at least partially effective treatment. To denigrate these rapid and life-saving scientific advances is inexcusable. To fabricate lies about AIDS research funding being cut by Republicans is a sin. Bearing false witness in so important a case is utterly reprehensible. But I expect these lies to enter school and college textbooks – if they haven’t already.
Another complaint by gay activists is that Reagan spoke little about AIDS. He also spoke little about type I diabetes, to which I lost a colleague. And he said nothing at all about Churg-Strauss syndrome, to which my wife lost a colleague. What Reagan did was his job – to foster a congenial environment for medical research, and then shut up and get out of the way. As a result, progress on AIDS proceeded at a record pace. America is responsible for the majority of advances in health care, and over 60% of recent Nobel Prizes in Medicine. American cancer-survival rates are the best in the world, far exceeding those of Britain’s National Health Service. But they say our system is “broken.”
In contrast, Obama talks incessantly about his “reform” of health care. As a result, the health care of millions is being disrupted. His tax on makers of medical devices is slowing development of new devices and causing layoffs of employees. They say talk is cheap, but sometimes it is very expensive. The results we see all around us – and make us nostalgic for Reagan’s reticence.
As the proverb tells us, a lie goes halfway around the world before the truth gets its pants on. Isn’t it possible to see a movie about a White House butler, or about an elderly woman seeking her son, and not be subjected to political propaganda that is utterly untrue? No, regrettably, it isn’t possible. Thanks so much, Hollywood, for your contributions to the annals of propaganda. Perhaps, at next year’s Oscars, they could give a special Goebbels Propaganda Award for the most egregious political lies.
Note that both “The Butler” and “Philomena” were released by the Weinstein Company. Harvey Weinstein is a major donor to the Democratic Party and a prominent backer of President Obama – a coincidence? Politics and art make an unpalatable mixture. When you throw in fabricated history, the mixture becomes downright toxic.
In the Soviet Union, there was a bitter joke that the future was known; it was the past that changed. The future was a socialist paradise, though in 74 years, the Soviets couldn’t get it quite right. But the past kept changing. When associates of Stalin fell out of favor, they were airbrushed out of photos, and their names were erased from history books and encyclopedias. Censorship and alteration of history were also widely used by Hitler and Mao.
Alteration and fabrication of history are not amusing foibles. They are signs of budding totalitarianism. Like cancer, totalitarianism must be diagnosed and treated at an early stage to avoid terrible suffering and eventual death. Like a rising PSA or a suspicious spot on a mammogram, altering and fabricating history are danger signs. If we are foolish, we can ignore them. But we can’t escape the consequences.
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