Friday, March 11, 2016

What Hillary should say regarding her Reagan & HIV/AIDS misstep

For fun, I like to think about how I would handle various PR disasters. Yes, for fun, I do that. I love to write the response that some political or corporate executive or offending celebrity SHOULD give to try to recover from a major screw up, rather than saying “I apologize if anyone was offended” or “I apologize for misspeaking,” two statements that just make the disaster worse.

At the funeral of Nancy Reagan - not sure if it was before or after the ceremony - in an interview with MSNBC, Hillary Clinton said:

“It may be hard for your viewers to remember how difficult it was for people to talk about HIV/AIDS back in the 1980s,” Clinton said. “And because of both President and Mrs. Reagan, in particular Mrs. Reagan, we started a national conversation, when before nobody would talk about it. Nobody wanted to do anything about it. And, you know, that too is something that I really appreciate with her very effective low-key advocacy, but it penetrated the public conscience and people began to say, hey, we have to do something about this too.”

This is not a misstatement. Hillary Clinton did not misspeak. These were very thoughtful statements. And these statements are either a profound misunderstanding of history, or a deliberate attempt to rewrite it in order to woo Reagan Democrats. There is absolutely no other reason for these statements. She has to own one of those reasons if she’s going to survive the fiasco. So here’s what Hillary Clinton needs to say, ASAP. You can thank me later, HC:

It’s hard to put into words the devastation that HIV and AIDS has caused, and continues to cause, worldwide. Science has made incredible strides regarding treatment for those with HIV and AIDS, and humanity has made incredible strides regarding how it treats people with HIV and AIDS, but there is still so much to do. 

In an interview regarding Former First Lady Nancy Reagan, someone for whom I have the deepest respect and admiration, I did not accurately state how she and President Reagan publicly responded to the AIDS crisis that began in the 1980s. In the moment of that interview, I believed those statements to be true. The outcry that has followed has me not only revisiting my statements, but revisiting my understanding of the history of HIV and AIDS and how our country has, and has not, responded. 

There are so many issues, many of them controversial, that I have been proud to be a strong advocate for, like children’s rights, women’s reproductive freedom, and affordable, accessible healthcare for all Americans. But even a very passionate advocate for human rights can have areas where he or she needs to improve her understanding. And, obviously, I am not as up-to-speed on the complete history regarding the government’s response to HIV and AIDS as I should be. I remember well when the crisis began in the 1980s. Like so many Americans, the first people I knew that died from AIDS were celebrities, like Rock Hudson and Freddie Mercury. I mourned those deaths, but, like so many other Americans, AIDS still felt somewhat remote from me and my life. When the disease began to affect people I knew, personally, as well as family members of friends, it was at about the same time when the Reagan’s began talking about the disease. That is how I remembered their response to the disease. But the reality is far different. The silence of the government in the 1980s regarding HIV and AIDS, despite thousands of people dying, inspired the “Silence = Death” campaign and the organization Act UP. I should have known that, and I didn’t. And I apologize for that. 

I own my mistakes. This was a mistake. But let me be clear: I am fully aware that HIV and AIDS continues to affect millions of people worldwide. It’s something I have been regularly reminded of as First Lady, as a US Senator, as a Secretary of State, and especially, as a friend. There are things we need to be doing globally and there are things we need to be doing right here in the USA both to prevent its spread and to get people affected by the disease the treatment, care and respect they absolutely deserve. I will consider it a priority in my administration to continue to address the realities of HIV and AIDS. 

You're welcome, Hillary.

1 comment:

  1. "And, the first appointment of my administration will be Jayne Cravens as White House press secretary."