In October 1982, when I was a sophomore in high school, this conversation transpired at a press briefing conducted by Larry Speakes, spokesman for Ronald Reagan.
Journalist: Larry, does the President have any response to the announcement [from] the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta that AIDS is now an epidemic and have over 600 cases?
Speakes: What’s AIDS?
Q: Over a third of them have died. It’s known as the “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?
Speakes: I don’t have it. Do you? [Laughter]
It goes without saying that the savagery of this exchange belies the genteel portraits of Reagan-era conservatism that are so often served up to us by the likes of, well, everyone. What’s more striking in this case is just how widely shared that cruelty could be.