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.