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You Do Not, Under Any Circumstances, Gotta Hand It to Nancy Reagan

The late First Lady was not much of a role model — and certainly not one we should honor during Pride Month

I know we’re all strangely bound to this conceit that serving as First Lady is a real job beyond standing next to the president and waving. It’s harmless enough from day to day, but we have to draw the line when the current First Lady is honoring a former one who managed to do active harm in the role. Unfortunately, I am powerless to stop Dr. Jill Biden from unveiling a new U.S. postage stamp bearing the visage of Nancy Reagan, which she will do at an event next week.

Weird for lots of reasons. One, nobody is forcing Democrats to kiss a dead Republican’s ass — yet they just can’t help themselves. For another, President Reagan wanted to revoke the public status of the postal service and sell it off to a corporation. But perhaps most galling is the decision to launch this stamp during Pride Month, as one of the Reagan administration’s greatest cruelties was its indifference to the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, a position that had everything to do with their understanding of it as a “gay plague.” Nancy had many gay friends from the couple’s Hollywood days, including Rock Hudson, whose publicist in 1985 sent her a desperate telegram from Paris, where the actor was dying of the disease. They asked her to help get him transferred to the one French hospital they thought could deliver life-saving treatment. She declined, likely to avoid intervening on an issue that her husband refused to acknowledge.

Hudson passed away nine weeks later.

In her White House years, Nancy Reagan’s primary initiative was the “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign, an oversimplified approach to substance abuse that was not just ineffective but in some cases made children more likely to experiment. Meanwhile, the alarmist attitude that nefarious dealers were attempting to corrupt kids was of a piece with the disastrous War on Drugs of that era, which led to the mass incarceration of low-level offenders. Nancy considered the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 a “personal victory,” and its enforcement of stiff new mandatory minimum sentences for possession and sale of meager quantities of crack cocaine that disproportionately affected poor and non-white populations — someone would have to be caught with 100 times as much powder cocaine to face the same amount of time in prison. 

So… a stamp? Does she deserve one? Not really, although I guess it’s a slight enough distinction that we can try to overlook it. Just as long as you never, ever respect her. Except for being the Throat Goat, of course. That’s the kind of American excellence we can celebrate.