So, everyone is rightly going nuts at Hillary Clinton stating that the Reagan’s- especially Nancy!- started a national conversation on HIV and AIDS in the 80s. This is shockingly, grotesquely untrue. The Reagan administration was deeply callous toward it, soaked as they were in the idea that anything outside the American “norm” was evil and should be disdained, which was baked into the notion that homosexuals deserved it. They laughed during a plague, and of all the crimes of that treacherous admin, that’s one of the highest.
Hillary has since said she misspoke, and since I can’t even begin to parse out the politics of this, I’ll believe her.
But then…what if she didn’t? What if this was intentional. After all, it created a huge firestorm where every left or center publication is practically breaking their fingers to chronicle Reagan’s disgusting response. Which leaves Republicans either defending Hillary Clinton (god forbid!) or agreeing with the accurate history. It basically boils down to this:
Hillary: Reagan was great about AIDS!
Right wing press: Wrong again, Hildebeast! He was terrible and didn’t care. Take that!
At the worst, it brings up a conversation reminding us just how terrible Reagan was, during a time of funerary nostalgia (in this case, sepia-by-proxy), and that every time a Republican says they are the true standard-bearer of his legacy, this is part and parcel of what they mean.
I don’t think that’s why she said what she did. It was probably a combination of muttering praise at a funeral, he ability to reach out to Republicans no matter what is right and good (triangulation!), or just a simple brain freeze. But isn’t it pretty to think so?
Of every way President Obama frustrates opponents and supporters alike, it is his stubborn refusal to fit into a narrative. In the Age of Takes, trying to piece together a grand theory based on one or two stories is to be quickly refuted by another narrative. Think of the glee the winger press had when Obama turned out not to be great at throwing a baseball- he’s weak, un-American, etc- but conspiciously silent about his basketball prowess.
This is especially true in foreign policy (though honestly, I could write “especially true in domestic policy” as well: he’s an tyrant, or a weakling, or a compromiser, or a canny operator, or someone who keps getting played). Obama’s critics on the left and on the right see two vastly different Presidents. On the left he is essentially a war criminal, reckless with drones and all-too-willing to engage in wars on every continent, vastly overstepping his power. On the right, he is the weak and feckless appeaser, letting our enemies run roughshod over us, at best. At worst, he is deliberately handing over the store.
In a long piece based on a series of interviews at The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg, who for years has been kind of Obama’s foriegn policy father-confessor, tries to piece together some kind of doctrine that goes above the fabled “don’t do dumb shit”. If there is a grand narrative of the Obama years, it is someone with a tragic sense, who believes that people can be rational if the conditions are right, but who have a wild atavistic past just lurking in the background, and can revert to irrational behavior at any moment. That our first African-American president seems to be guided by Conrad- “we live in the flicker”- is material enough for generations of grad students to parse out.