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.


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Robert Muniz
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Robert Muniz

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.

Josh
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Josh

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.

Josh Kurpies
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Josh Kurpies

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… Read more »

J.V.
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J.V.

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… Read more »

Tom T
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Tom T

This guy doesn’t have a prayer against the 3 incumbents/ Should be fun though

J.V.
Guest
J.V.

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… Read more »

blueeyedboy
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blueeyedboy

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.

Christopher
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Christopher

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… Read more »

Ida Claire
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Ida Claire

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?

Michael G.
Guest

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… Read more »

AM
Guest
AM

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.

Christopher
Guest
Christopher

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… Read more »

Steve Rosenberger
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Steve Rosenberger

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.

Greta
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Greta

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