Comparing Republic Reaction to Ebola and AIDS

Amanda Marcotte has a column looking at the difference between how Republicans reacted to AIDS in the 1980s and are now reacting to Ebola. As she points out, we have exactly one person with Ebola in the US and only one person has died in this country, compared to tens of thousands of AIDS victims in the 80s. Their reaction then? Joking and sarcasm.

White House Press Briefing — Oct. 15, 1982

Q: Larry, does the President have any reaction to the announcement—the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, that AIDS is now an epidemic and have over 600 cases?

MR. SPEAKES: What’s AIDS?

Q: Over a third of them have died. It’s known as “gay plague.” (Laughter.) No, it is. I mean it’s a pretty serious thing that one in every three people that get this have died. And I wondered if the President is aware of it?

MR. SPEAKES: I don’t have it. Do you? (Laughter.)

Q: No, I don’t.

MR. SPEAKES: You didn’t answer my question.

Q: Well, I just wondered, does the President—

MR. SPEAKES: How do you know? (Laughter.)

It took until 1987 for President Reagan to even notice that AIDS existed and mention it, after thousands of people had died. It took until 1988, the end of Reagan’s two terms in office, for the Surgeon General to even put out advice on how to prevent transmission. And then there’s Jesse Helms, who thought those damn gay people deserved it and were getting punished by God, so there’s no need to research for a cure.

Helms believed gays were “weak, morally sick wretches” and argued that “there is not one single case of AIDS in this country that cannot be traced in origin to sodomy”—motivating factors behind his push to block funding for research into HIV at a time when the epidemic was killing tens of thousands of people in the United States alone. He described AIDS education as “so obscene, so revolting, I may throw up.”

There are lots of differences between Ebola and AIDS, of course. One is that Ebola has infected only a handful of poeple in the United States, while AIDS was killing tens of thousands of people a year. Today’s Republicans are fear-mongering over a threat so miniscule that it barely deserves notice. Which brings us to the second difference: AIDS was affecting mostly gay people and the attitude of Republicans then — and many of them still — is fuck those people. God hates them, they hate them, so let them die.

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  • blf

    we have exactly one person with Ebola in the US

    Whilst that may be the case at the present time (I don’t know), two people were repatriated to Emory University Hospital (and recovered without infecting anyone else), one person presented himself for treatment at a hospital in Texas (and later died, with the poor procedures at that hospital apparently responsible for the infection of two(?) other people), and one doctor who recently returned from volunteering with MSF is now(?) in isolation in NYC with a confirmed case: That makes four people in total, at least.

    I have no idea how many contacts have been traced. It was around one hundred in the case of the person in Texas who died, but I’ve no idea for any of the three-ish other confirmed cases.

    And no, there being a total to-date of about four cases instead of one doesn’t change the point any. The thugs and other nutters are being completely irresponsible, and also noticeably doing nothing to help at the source — parts of western Africa — other than not(?)-opposing the military medical teams’s deployment, nor more locally within USAlienstan.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    There are lots of differences between Ebola and AIDS, of course. One is that…the second difference…

    And the third: Democrat president.

  • davefitz

    I was thinking about this just yesterday. This disease has similar transmission methods to HIV yet the right is freaking the fuck out over Ebola. The difference today is, we have a black democrat in the White House and this is a great way to get the base to the polls next week over yet another non-issue.

  • erichoug

    The funny thing was that the complete political inaction on the part of the Reagan administration was a huge catalyst to the gay rights movement and could be argued to have led to the current acceptance of same sex marriage.

  • Trebuchet

    @1: That fourth person you mention is the only current case. Thomas Duncan has died and the two nurses who treated him have recovered.

  • scienceavenger

    I think this comparison is off base. I remember when AIDS first appeared in the public consciousness, and the overriding reason people didn’t think it was that serious wasn’t bigotry towards gays. It was a belief that one could easily avoid contracting it by avoiding high risk behavior. With Ebola the perception is that it could infect anyone equally.

    There is also the difference in incubation times to consider. As we see with global warming and a host of other issues, anything slow to change gets less attention than something that kills swiftly like Ebola does.

  • naturalcynic

    Well, that was the Reagan administration’s non-response. Probably more common was the attitude that people with AIDS should be permanently quarantined. [in FEMA camps?]

  • moarscienceplz

    It was a belief that one could easily avoid contracting it by avoiding high risk behavior. With Ebola the perception is that it could infect anyone equally.

    Well, it depends on which nutjob you choose to quote and when, but I remember a lot of hysteria over possibly catching AIDS from public toilet seats, and calls to quarantine AIDS patients.

  • Nick Gotts

    Talking of ebola, some tentative good news:Ebola crisis: Infections ‘slowing in Liberia’. The slowdown is attributed to Liberians learning how to avoid infection: allowing sufferers to be isolated, and adopting safer funerary practices. It’s all too easy to see people in poor countries as helpless victims of disaster.

  • howardhershey

    “Which brings us to the second difference: AIDS was affecting mostly gay people and the attitude of Republicans then — and many of them still — is fuck those people. God hates them, they hate them, so let them die.”

    Which brings us to the reason why they want to make it harder and more miserable for medical staff to volunteer to go to where Ebola is, in fact, killing thousands: ” fuck those people. God hates them, [we] hate them, so let them die.”

    Unfortunately for this ‘logic’, the *only* way to prevent spread of Ebola here is to treat it there.

  • dingojack

    When the SARS epidemic broke out the markets when down, a lot. Ebola, not so much (< 20% of SARS downturn, from memory).

    See the ‘wisdom’ of letting the market decide a human being’s intrinsic worth. @@

    [This has been #123,146,278 of the series ‘Examples of Libertarian Moral Bankruptcy’. Collect the whole set!!]

    Dingo

  • dingojack

    I’ve mentioned it a few times before — Rampant: How a City Stopped a Plague (for a different response to the AIDS crisis).

    Dingo

  • Abby Normal

    One minor correction, Ed states that Reagan did not address AIDS until 1987. He actually spoke about making it a top research priority in 1985, after his long time friend Rock Hudson died of AIDS related complications. But Reagan’s statements never amounted to much in the way of government action. It’s true that ’87 is when he started to do more than pay lip service to fighting the epidemic.