Washington Post columnist Karen Tumulty has just released a new biography of Nancy Reagan, and a segment about the book on “CBS Sunday Morning” sparked a trend on Twitter: dragging the former First Lady for her refusal to acknowledge the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980’s.
In “The Triumph of Nancy Reagan”, Tumulty “explores the First Lady’s skills at protecting her husband from perceived threats, underscoring her little-appreciated political savviness in aid of the Reagan presidency” including hiding his advancing Alzheimer’s towards the end of his second term in office.
Although AIDS was first identified in 1981, neither Ronald nor Nancy Reagan mentioned its existence publicly for several more years. President Reagan finally spoke about the epidemic ravaging the gay community during a press conference in 1985 and also referenced it in several speeches in 1987.
Nancy Reagan cared more about making expensive renovations to the White House than she did about the victims of AIDS. Saying that she’s a hero for addressing it 6 years later is like congratulating a firefighter who arrives on the scene 6 years after the house has burned down.
— Stephen Sipila (@StephenSipila) April 11, 2021
Despite an excerpt claiming “appreciation has grown for the role that she played in her husband’s success”, Twitter users were quick to remind everyone just how shrewd and controlling Nancy Reagan was, something she acknowledged: “Does the president sometimes say no to me? Sure,” she told NBC’s Chris Wallace in 1985. “Does his no always end it? Not always. I’ll wait a little while; then I’ll come back at him again.”
Ronald Reagan finally called funding AIDS research a “top priority” on the same day he lost his old friend, actor Rock Hudson, to the disease. Both Reagans defended his administration’s response and research funding. That year, Congress finally allocated nearly $190 million for AIDS research—$70 million more than the administration’s request.
Another excerpt from the book details Nancy Reagan’s reliance on a psychic to help her husband run the country:
Days after a bullet pierced the body of President Ronald Reagan on March 30, 1981, his distraught wife Nancy got a call from longtime Hollywood friend Merv Griffin.
The TV host told the first lady that star charts drawn by San Francisco astrologer Joan Quigley, a mutual acquaintance, had pinpointed March 30 as a dangerous day for her husband.
“Oh, my God,” Nancy gasped. “I could have stopped it!”
Nancy Reagan’s reliance on her psychic was a well-guarded secret in the White House, but her public face was there for all to see.
Nancy Reagan did not support Alzheimer’s research until Ronnie was diagnosed.
— Kevin G Shinnick (@shinnick_g) April 11, 2021
Ideas for future @CBSSunday segments: not Nancy Reagan. Addressing AIDS a full 6 years into the raging epidemic was not heroic. It was a response to mounting pressure from courageous activists. The Reagans did nothing but enable death and misery (remind you of anyone?).
— Melissa H (@melissainboston) April 11, 2021
You can watch the full segment from “CBS Sunday Morning” below.