It might have been expected that the death of movie star and AIDS activist Elizabeth Taylor might be an occasion for liberal sniping. Unsurprisingly, it came from Joy Behar on her CNN Headline News show Wednesday night, recirculating the complete myth that Ronald Reagan didn't care about AIDS, and couldn't utter the name of the disease for years:
BEHAR: She didn't like Ronald Reagan's politics. She knew the Reagans and she was friends with them, I think, but she didn't like his politics. And here is the reason, I think, because as the AIDS crisis began in 1981, and Reagan couldn't even say the word "AIDS" until 1987, after 40,000 people had died from the disease. Do you think that possibly, either one of you, do you think that possibly Elizabeth forced his hand to actually speak about it eventually? Did she have anything to do with that, Barry?
MANILOW: Could be. Could be. Like I say, she was on a mission. I don't think anything was going to stop her.
BEHAR: Yes. What do you think, Kenneth?
COLE: I know that he must have -- at a certain point, he felt he needed to address this publicly, and the sentiment was changing. And the at-risk community was growing significantly larger. But AmFAR [the American Foundation for AIDS Research] was formed in '85, and it was the coming together of the National AIDS Research Foundation, which was started by Elizabeth in Los Angeles, and Mathilde Krim had the AIDS Medical Foundation in New York, came together and formed AmFAR in 1985. And it becomes very public, very vocal. And then '87, actually, at an AMFAR event, Ronald Reagan talks about AIDS for the first time.
Wrong. As Brent Bozell wrote in 2004 to correct myths in the days after Reagan died,
Any reporter who bothered to check facts would find that Reagan discussed AIDS funding in a 1985 press conference, just for starters. But let’s turn that around on the rest of Washington. Does that mean no reporter asked Reagan about AIDS in the 1984 presidential debates? And that every interview President Reagan granted to a national or local media outlet failed to solicit Reagan’s opinions on AIDS until 1985? Using this phony-baloney spin line – that federal policy hinges exclusively on the presidential bully pulpit – is an exercise in liberal hyperbole over hard data.
AIDS funding skyrocketed in the 1980s, almost doubling each year from 1983 – when the media started blaring headlines – from $44 million to $103 million, $205 million, $508 million, $922 million, and then $1.6 billion in 1988. Reagan’s secretary of Health and Human Services in1983, Margaret Heckler, declared AIDS her department’s "number one priority." While the House of Representatives was Democrat-dominated throughout the 1980s, which Democrats would quickly explain was the source of that skyrocketing AIDS funding, Reagan clearly signed the spending bills that funded the war on AIDS.
In fact, neither President Reagan nor Vice President Bush was asked about AIDS in the fall debates of 1984. In the first debate on October 7, 1984, Diane Sawyer (then of CBS) even pressed Democrat nominee Walter Mondale "What remaining question would you most like to see your opponent forced to answer?" He didn't ask about AIDS either, but about the deficit.