Sunday, December 09, 2018

George H.W. Bush: Failing on HIV/AIDS and Enabling the "Religious Right"

George H.W. Bush with Jerry Falwell in Lynchburg, Virginia.
Last week the media engaged in an orgy of overkill in the coverage of the funeral of George H.W. Bush which at times seemed more like a royal funeral than that of an American politician.  Yes, compared to the current occupant of the White House, Bush 41 looks almost saintly, but in their rush to gush over Bush, many in the media completely ignored Bush's failings and the lives harmed and the political damage done to the nation.  One huge failing was on Bush's policies during the HIV/AIDS crisis, first under Reagan and then later under his own administration.  The second major failing (which dovetails with the first) was his enabling the rise of the perversely labeled "Religious Right" and its ultimate takeover of the Republican Party.  Learning from history requires that both good and bad be remembered so that previous errors do not repeat themselves. This was utterly lacking in most of the funeral coverage.  First a piece in Huffington Post looks at Bush's failure to those with HIV/AIDS.  Here are excerpts:
It’s no surprise that after the death of former president George H.W. Bush we’re seeing media pundits, advocates and popular historians promote a rosy view of his tenure as president. In the era of Donald Trump, there’s a tendency to portray every Republican leader of the past in a nostalgic, sugar-coated way. I saw a tweet from Yahoo News with a quote from the well-known historian Jon Meacham, describing Bush as a man who “believed that he was not a Republican president — he was a president,” noting that “there’s something very old-fashioned about that.” Perhaps that was what Bush “believed,” but it was far from the truth. Bush was as captive to the evangelical right on social issues — and thus a decidedly Republican president — as was his predecessor, Ronald Reagan, who cultivated religious conservatives as a potent political force and bowed to their anti-LGBTQ agenda as the AIDS epidemic mushroomed in the 1980s.  Reagan’s history of callously ignoring the epidemic while thousands died is well-documented. Bush, at the outset of his term, promised a “kinder, gentler” presidency than the man he’d served under as vice president. He even gave a speech on the AIDS epidemic in 1990, which was long on compassion but short on strategy and commitment to funding. During the speech, in fact, Urvashi Vaid, an invited guest and then the executive director of the prominent National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, now the National LGBTQ Task Force, took the unprecedented and heroic act of standing up and holding a sign, “Talk Is Cheap. AIDS Funding Is Not.” 
Bush, in the end, bowed to the same extremists Reagan did when it came to AIDS and LGBTQ rights. As The Washington Post noted, Bush allowed evangelicals to mature as a movement within the GOP after Reagan brought them in, rather than pushing back.
[I]t took years of work by the indefatigable Democrats Sen. Edward Kennedy and Rep. Henry Waxman, and was too little, too late. By that point, nearly 10 years into the epidemic, 150,000 cases of people with HIV had been reported in the U.S., and 100,000 people had died due to AIDS.
Infamously, Bush had said in a television interview that if he had a grandchild who was gay he would “love” the child but would tell the child he wasn’t normal. And like Reagan, he stocked his Cabinet with anti-gay zealots. Health Secretary Louis Sullivan, also protested by ACT UP for his terrible response to HIV, joined forces with evangelical leaders to cover up a government-funded study on teen suicide that found LGBTQ teens were at much higher risk.  
And after Buchanan, who Bush offered a prime slot at the Republican National Convention in Houston, gave his infamous “culture war” speech, declaring there is a “religious war” in this country, and attacking, among others, the “militant homosexual rights movement,” Bush refused to denounce the speech and instead publicly denounced same-sex marriage, which was nowhere near a reality at the time. 
If Bush had come into office with perhaps a vague ambition that he might move away from the harsh Reagan years, with its religious morality crusade, he left the presidency having paved the way for his own son’s even more anti-LGBTQ administration, firmly ensconcing religious conservative power within the Republican party.  And that, of course, is the same party that now proudly claims Donald Trump as its leader.
As this above quote notes, the Washington Post looked at Bush's role in cementing the rise of Christofascists within the GOP - the same GOP now dominated by hate-filled Christofascists and white supremacists.  Here are article excerpts:
Unlike his son George W. Bush, the elder Bush, a lifelong Episcopalian, was less known for his religious faith. He was certainly not thought of as a champion of the religious right, the powerful political movement most associated with his predecessor, Ronald Reagan.
Yet it was Bush, the moderate establishment Republican whose family helped found Planned Parenthood, who secured the religious right’s permanent place in American politics. While historians largely credit Reagan’s presidency with helping religious conservatives move from the shadows of American public life into its spotlight, it was the Bush presidency, particularly its disappointments and defeat, that entrenched the religious right as the center of the Republican Party and guaranteed its ongoing influence.
Shortly after Reagan’s win in 1980, the conservative activist and key architect of the religious right Paul Weyrich told the incoming vice president that he better become a stronger advocate against abortion and for school prayer once in office. “I am not intimidated by those who suggest I better hew the line,” Bush shot back. “Hell with them.” Political reality, however, soon curtailed Bush’s independent streak. . . . . [Bush] They also made clear to Bush his need to realign his positions with the conservative wing of the party, which was ascendant, in part because of the rise of cultural issues that were scrambling the party coalitions. At the 1992 Republican National Convention in Houston, 300 of the 2,200 delegates belonged to the Christian Coalition, and more than 40 percent of the delegates identified as evangelical Christians. With that presence, the GOP’s platform committee produced one of its most conservative platforms ever, with absolutist positions against abortion and homosexuality. While Bush never fully embraced the religious right, he did cater to it from time to time, understanding how essential members were to his political fortunes. His choice of the conservative evangelical Dan Quayle as his vice president and his nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court were both intended to appease religious conservatives. . . .  But Bush’s strategic courting of the religious right also laid the groundwork for its eventual takeover of the party.
When Bush lost his reelection bid in 1992, critics pointed to the tent revival feel of the Houston convention as the reason that moderate and independent voters had fled the GOP. But for the religious right, the defeat was a victory of sorts. . . . . And they ambitiously planned to recruit more conservative candidates for office and bury the moderate wing of the party by continuing to build their control of the GOP from within.
By 1994, a study found that the religious right had become “dominant” or “substantial” in 21 of the GOP’s state parties. Two years later at the Republican National Convention in San Diego, Christian Coalition members made up more than half of the convention’s delegates.

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