Opinion: Ronald Reagan a ‘Great Man’ and ‘Great President’? Here’s Where Duke Mason Is Wrong

I can appreciate West Hollywood City Council candidate Duke Mason’s personal sentiments regarding his family friend, President Ronald Reagan, but heralding his “greatness” as a man, and especially as a “great” president, is where we part company.

Seriously. Reagan may have been influenced by such “advisors” as Gary Bauer and Alan Keyes… and Edwin Meese. But they were not the president. Reagan ignored the AIDS epidemic even as thousands of people were dying of the disease. Many of his “people” believed that AIDS was God’s punishment of men for being gay, and I’m sure that influenced him, but he was “the decider.”

Reagan did not publicly talk about AIDS until the sixth year of his presidency. In 1986, when AIDS fatalities were doubling every year, Reagan proposed cuts in funding for AIDS research. It wasn’t until a grade school student named Ryan White was barred from returning to his class after being diagnosed with AIDS, that the Reagan Administration started looking into the “possibility” that AIDS “might be” another human disease that could affect anyone, and was not a punishment from God against gay men, who were and are a part of his own creation.

It’s good that Ryan White was able to awaken Reagan’s humanity, but sad that gay men, especially those with AIDS, were not.

Ronald Reagan

For those who were there and lived through the confusion and the horror of the early AIDS epidemic, any praise for Ronald Reagan’s behavior during that time is abjectly rejected. Friends were dying and fear was rampant, and that’s why, although I was never diagnosed with AIDS or never tested positive for HIV, I answered the call from APLA to offer my volunteer services on the hotline and Speakers’ Bureau for nearly four years. It was a call to arms and, for me personally, it was a way of helping push back against the Ronald Reagan anti-gay propaganda machine and trying to help educate the public with facts and unbiased information.

In 1985, the first “Commitment to Life” fundraiser (which raised $1.3 million for AIDS research) honoring Betty Ford and spearheaded by Elizabeth Taylor was staged at the Bonaventure Hotel. During that event a din of boos and hisses resounded throughout the ballroom when Burt Reynolds read a letter of “support and sympathy” from Ronald Reagan. Burt scolded and shushed the crowd, but I’m sure he understood we were responding to the insincerity of the words Reagan sent to be read for him, and resented the hypocrisy. It was far too little, far too late, and the words rang superficial and frivolous. It was commonly believed that Reagan felt compelled to make a public statement at that particular time, because it had just been publicly revealed that his former friend, Rock Hudson, had  been diagnosed with AIDS.

Reagan’s mishandling of the AIDS crisis wasn’t the least of his many shortcomings, but there are far too many to list here and they would fill a voluminous book. I hope one is soon written that tells the true story of his failed presidency. Reagan robbed the Social Security Trust Fund to pay for his budget shortfall. The money has never been paid back. His financial policies caused the savings and loan industry to collapse.

Reagan was very weak on the war on terror and helped lay the groundwork for today’s Al Qaeda. He armed Saddam Hussein’s Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war even as Hussein was violating international law by using chemical weapons against his own people. He illegally supplied weapons to Nicaragua rebels, violating a law that he himself had signed. He supported the racist apartheid government in South Africa by vetoing an act to pressure South Africa to end apartheid. Thankfully, Congress was forced to override his veto.

James Duke Mason

Reagan presided over the structured de-institutionalization of mental illness that gave rise to a new era of homelessness. The mentally ill and indigent, as well as the homeless, are still being dumped and left in America’s streets by hospitals and some law enforcement agencies.

Ronald Reagan busted the Air Traffic Controllers union, setting in motion ensuing decades of anti-unionism, wage stagnation and a declining middle class. At least 138 Reagan Administration officials, including several Cabinet members, were investigated for, indicted for or convicted of crimes. Many of them were pardoned by Reagan or George H. W. Bush before they could stand trial.

Ronald Reagan, Jr., said in his book “Ronald Reagan at 100” that he saw signs of dementia, and perhaps the approaching Altzheimers disease, while his father was still in the White House. That is certainly a reason to be sympathetic. We do know that around that time, his wife Nancy was heard to be whispering answers to him in response to questions from the media.

We’ll likely never know to what degree the president’s health effected his decisions in office, if at all. But one thing I can say for sure – Reagan was not a “great president.” He may have been a “great” man to some, but not to me nor, do I think, to the gay community he betrayed, as well as not to millions more Americans who he disappointed for myriad reasons.

And by the way, Reagan did not “single handedly end the cold war.” That’s just another exaggeration, another “untruth”, perpetrated by the Ronald Reagan propaganda machine. Those of us who know our history know better.

  1. Now we know that Duke Mason is a Log Cabin Republican. That’s all you need to know in the next election. As for those of you who can’t stand the criticism of St. Reagan, too bad. He was a terrible president. Tens of thousands of people died needlessly because he was beholden to the religious right (Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson) for his victory. They were behind his intentionally ignoring the plight of gay people because of their hatred for us. If you make common cause with the GOP, then you’re no better than they are and they are evil.

  2. This is an excellent article, written gently & firmly simultaneously. Reagan was a former Democrat turned Republican, being propped up by the right wing of his new party & used as a puppet. He was a better actor as president than he was as an actor. Kudos to Mr. McBreairty for a very eloquently written & touching essay.

  3. Woody, thank you for writing this and sharing your own personal activism at the time in response to the actions (inactions rather) of our government. Although just old enough to recall hearing certain bits on the news, being born in ’77 and growing up in a less populated state, it would be years before I understood what it all meant. As someone who has chosen a career of working for elected officials and understands the challenges of governing within the representative democracy structure when issues/policies/votes/decisions are placed in silos to then either be used to pressure an official to decide one way; used against an otherwise good official; or alternatively, gets forgotten about completely without any explanation/reasoning for their decision at all, assuming the decision (without regard to reason) is consistent with their supportive base, so I am fascinated by the action/inaction of the Reagan Administration to the AIDS crisis throughout the 1980s. We’ve learned a lot since, and over time, will learn more about the inside policy discussions at those top levels (for good and bad as we’ve seen with the inexcusable press conference comments) that will give a broader perspective what went into the decision making, both factual evidence such as death tolls relayed to President and emotional considerations weighed by the President and his handlers . What we cannot overlook or lose though is the experiences and perspectives of those people living (and dying) through the crisis at the ground level because, I believe, it’s where those two seemingly opposite viewpoints/perspectives/storylines come together that we learn from and can objectively study and learn how to better govern in the future. Again, thank you for sharing because unlike the officially recorded government records, these story records risk fading away over time.

    For those that may have missed it, after writing the original Op-Ed praising President Reagan, Duke Mason reconsidered and revised his position as described here by WeHoVille:

  4. The tone of these messages in this threat goes to prove a point I’ve long suspected: that gay-liberals are only liberal if you agree with them. If you hold a different opinion, then their liberality vanishes and you are treated as an enemy and attacked. Duke Mason made a pro-Reagan statement however many years back, which someone dug-up and foist into the limelight of a potential election bid, knowing that the liberality of WeHo gays ends if you don’t share their viewpoint. No matter what else you’ve said or done, you are labeled, vilified and shunned – because liberal gays are the worst kind of discriminators . . . and hypocrites!

  5. Should we consider Abraham Lincoln a terrible president because he trampled freedom of the press and closed-down newspapers during the Civil War? Reagan is ranked the 9th greatest U.S. president by historians – people who are impartial and should know. Just because WeHo gays who think everything should be about the gay community and who like to hear themselves spout-off say he was a terrible president – and who now want to take it out on Duke Mason because he holds a different opinion – doesn’t make Reagan a bad president. He won 49 of 50 states in the electoral college and two landslide victories. If his policy on AIDS is the only thing you evaluate his presidency on, you’re hopelessly deluded, self-obsessed and wrong. Stick to your guns, Duke!

    1. Very well said, J.V. I’ve been reading all these other posts and I wonder where in the world are they getting this stuff?! Absolutely none of it is true or accurate.

      1. Excuse me, I know you righties hate seeing facts that fly in the face of your delusions, but my post below is both true and accurate. Rock Hudson was a friend of mine, and he shared many stories about the Reagan’s and their prickly history with gay associates. As a matter of fact, he personally liked Ron and Nancy, so it’s not as if he had an axe to grind. And only an idiot would support Mason’s praising of Reagan in a town crowded with a gay population, many of whom lost loved ones to AIDS. Ronald Reagan made rich Republicans feel better about being Americans, that I’ll give him.

  6. There are similarities between Reagan & Trump. Reagan surrounded himself with religious whackos who influenced his decisions. Reagan repeated stores that were proven lies because they supported his extreme agenda. There are more. Who says history doesn’t repeat itself?

  7. I don’t think Duke Mason should be the brunt of criticism because his family was friendly with the Reagans. The late President was a showman and helped end the Communist dominance over Eastern Europe: the wall came down and stopped utilitarian dreadful architecture which has ended up on the streets of West Hollywood with the approval of the dreary powers who run WEHO.

    As for Duke, I found him to be quite charming, very bright, with a background that might bring some “taste” and logic back to West Hollywood leadership along with a younger point of view. I believe he was a page in Congress and has some on the spot experience regarding politics. He offers a certain youthful sophistication that’s missing on the City Council which mainly is populated with “pay for play” political hacks with all the stature of managers at a 99 Cent Store.

    Woody McBreairty’s piece does bring up negative facts regarding Ronald Reagan. Nancy, was far worse, a dreary opportunistic meanspirited woman with the depth of a small soiled puddle and what use to be called a “fag hag.” You can see her influences, before she died, at the Ronald Reagan Museum in Simi Valley. There was barely a mention of “Ronnie’s” first wife, actress Jane Wyman, or, Maureen and Michael, his two children. And there wasn’t much about Ronnie and Nancy’s kids, Ronnie Jr. and Patty, either. I asked some uptight “male” docent about this, and he said: “the Museum is dedicated to the President and First Lady.” That was obvious from the displays of First Lady dummies dressed in Gallanos gowns.

    Reagan did surround himself with a lot of “Christers” as Madelyn Murray O’Hare use to call them, preaching that slop and mainly a collection of opportunistic bible beaters. You know the type, always saying “our thoughts and prayers are with you!” after some loonie has massacred dozens of people in “The Greatest Country on Earth.” But since the USA, as Gore Vidal said, is a country of “superstitious peasants” it’s no surprise because you need to hook up with these bible creeps, that’s how you get elected.

    As for Woody’s pitch that Reagan didn’t do anything on the War On Terror, let’s not forget that it was Clinton’s group that was remiss on initially investigating what led up to 9-11 and then the three last administrations have been major players in what President Eisenhower called the “Military Industrial Complex.”

    George W. Bush and Barack Obama spent over 6 trillion dollars fighting this ludicrous war in the Middle East with hundreds of thousands dead and thousands of Americans dead or injured. Making them war criminals. Why?

    The USA has a small one trillion dollars left for infrastructure.

    So should any of the WEHO candidates praise Clinton, Bush or Obama as anything more as “step-and-fetch-it” for Wall Street, I hope that Woody will zero in on their shortcomings!

    As for Duke Mason, he should appeal to voters who aren’t stuck in the 70s. My vote is for the Duke!

  8. I like how this is written & agree the writer’s including his own personal experiences gives it more of an impact. I also agree that pushing the greatness of Ronald Reagan isn’t the best way to win over most voters in WeHo. The candidate is surely entitled to campaign however he wants but I’d say this diminishes his chances.

  9. Reagan’s war on gays began when he was elected governor of California. Most longstanding loyal gay friends of Ronnie & Nancy were dropped unceremoniously from the inner circle because of pressure from the homophobes on the right. They couldn’t have their great white hope for the Presidency tainted by his association with homos. Now, the question is why did the Reagan’s even have gay friends? What self-respecting gay person would want to hang with the the dullest couple in Hollywood? Well, they weren’t self-respecting, they were closet cases like Merv Griffin and the delusional Liberace. The Reagan’s did retain Billy Haines, a silent movie star-turned decorator, probably because he was so disinterested in politics and also he and Nancy shared similar tastes in home decor.

  10. Two catastrophes hit the US in 1981. The first of these – Reagan – magnified the destructiveness of the other – AIDS. In the decade before Duke Mason’s birth in 1992, more than 100,000 Americans were killed by AIDS. By the time Mason was 10 years old, the US death toll had climbed to more than 500,000.

    Mason either doesn’t know our history, or he doesn’t care about the unprecedented criminal neglect of Reagan and Bush re AIDS. Either way, he has no business running for office in West Hollywood, or anywhere else.

  11. Probably not the best way to kick off your political campaign in West Hollywood, by singing the praises of Ronald Reagan. Bad judgement. My guess is that he won’t win

  12. Ronald Reagan openly pandered to anti-gay bigots like the so-called “Moral Majority” for votes. Any “private” support for individual gays friends if it even existed, which is doubtful, is utterly irrelevant. His public pandering to anti-gay bigots cost hundreds of thousands of lives.

  13. Nail on head, Mr. Woody! The Republicans have been so good at revising history to suit their own “alternate set of facts” & have always gotten away with it because Democrats don’t fight back. Their Reagan legacy is a figment of their warped imagination.
    Woody I was also touched by your own personal experiences. I wasn’t here back then, but your insight adds something to my limited knowledge of that specific time. Thank you for this

  14. There are so many important things to discuss other than Ronald Reagan’s position on AIDS some forty years ago. Many of us were scared, and none of us had understanding or knowledge about an epidemic of a new type of virus that had never been seen before. What is slightly absurd is Mason trying to get by on his celebrity when in fact this nice young man has done almost nothing with his life despite a huge head start. As a candidate Mr. Mason takes credit for supporting affordable housing or small business but in reality he is bragging about the work done by many others and copying the vision that has been the long standing goals of the city.

  15. Woody, you “know your history” through the filters of those whose agendas were threatened and often destroyed by Reagan; and thankfully so. These lies about him and his presidency have been repeated so many times that the truth doesn’t stand a chance. I have no intention of getting into a “back-and-forth” on this topic because I’ve done it so many times before and have found that even in the face of irrefutable evidence the hatred for this man is so deeply ingrained it is like a religion; you can’t be talked out of it. Ideologies that define so many people would fall like a house of cards if the haters on the Left had no choice but to accept that they were wrong. I suggest you do a little research into sources that wouldn’t otherwise come across your desk where you will likely find some gaping holes in what you think you “know”.

  16. There were so many hideous “firsts” with Ronald Reagan. Let’s start with the “voodoo” nature of “trickle-down economics.” We know for a fact that the massive tax cuts instituted by Reagan not only blew a huge hole in the budget but never did trickle down. The VAST MAJORITY of the new wealth went to the top few percent of the population. This was the start of the MASSIVE income inequality we are suffering with today. And POTUS 45 wants an even bigger repeat!

    Then there was the Iran-Contra affair. Reagan as much as stole the 1980 election by bargaining with a foreign enemy government (Iran) to hold the hostages until after he was elected. If they did, he would sell them parts for their American-made military equipment inherited from The Shaw. As soon as Reagan was installed as POTUS, like magic, the hostages were released. Arms were illegally sold to Iran and a big portion of the proceeds were used to finance the Contras in Nicaragua – also illegal.

    Reagan was #1 in administration officials indicted for crimes. Many were convicted and spent time behind bars. Oliver North, Elliott Abrams, Robert McFarlane,Caspar Weinberger, Fawn Hall, etc.

    Under Nancy Reagan, we had “Just Say No” as the antidote to drug addiction.

    Crack cocaine was introduced to poor and minority communities and it’s pretty clear that the CIA was involved in protecting the drug trafficking from Nicaragua because the profits financed the Contras it was backing.

    Ronald Reagan used the false meme of “The Welfare Queen” in order to reduce or eliminate funding for various welfare programs.

    The retirement age for people like me was raised from 65 to 67 in order to make Social Security seem more on sure footing. Reagan knew this wouldn’t kick in for decades so no one noticed it or thought much of it at the time. Now people are realizing how they are screwed. SS retirement age goes up for people born later. Instead of simply lifting the cap on earnings subject to SS, this is what we were stuck with.

    Ronald Reagan stopped enforcing the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. He eliminated the “fairness standard” for broadcasters. He busted the unions (a Democratic stronghold) by first firing all the Air Traffic Controllers..

    And the Band Played On.

    1. Todd Bianco, your comment reminds me of this quote from Ronald Reagan: “It’s not that our liberal friends are ignorant. It’s that so much of what they know isn’t true!”

  17. FIRST, define “GREAT” – any person whose presence and actions affect a large mass of people can be labeled as such according to dictionary. Therefore HITLER was “great”

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