Clinton's Reagan overreach: Hillary's HIV trip-up shows she really needs to learn the political art of shade

Clinton's Nancy Reagan comment proves she needs to learn how to "compliment" without complimenting at all

By Amanda Marcotte

Published March 11, 2016 9:51PM (EST)

Hillary Clinton   (Reuters/Randall Hill)
Hillary Clinton (Reuters/Randall Hill)

Well, she stepped in it this time. Hillary Clinton went on air and said something so profoundly untrue that it's hard not to laugh when you hear it: "It may be hard for your viewers to remember how difficult it was for people to talk about HIV/AIDS back in the 1980s. And because of both President and Mrs. Reagan, in particular Mrs. Reagan, we started a national conversation."

Outrage has ensued, understandably, because the historical record shows the exact opposite was true. The Reagans basically refused to talk about AIDS in public. Clinton's initial efforts at kicking dirt over this so far are laughably weak, as well.

The fact that this happened at all is just baffling. Look, no one is under any illusions that Clinton actually thinks something so stupid. (She later apologized) She was on air, talking about Nancy Reagan's death, and knowing that Americans are a superstitious people that are afraid of speaking ill of the dead she groped around for something nice to say. That she had to reach so far tells us that this was a very difficult task indeed.

Still, one has to wonder if Clinton learned nothing from her years living in Arkansas while her husband worked his way through politics there. Oh, she can do the accent and talk about the food, but clearly she never learned the Southern art of blessing someone's heart, which is to say finding a way to appear to be complimenting them while saying nothing nice at all. (Or, if you're a true master, throwing some shade.)

Being called upon to speak about a recently deceased but distasteful person is just when you need such a skill. And Nancy Reagan's life provided such wonderful opportunities!

"She certainly was an influential first lady, and I felt quite a bit of pressure to live up to her example."

"She definitely saw herself as a glamorous woman in the style of Jackie Kennedy."

"Nancy knew how to wear red!"

"Bill would often say to me, 'Why don't you look at me the way Nancy does Ronald?'" (Strict adherence to the facts is not necessary here.)

"Her efforts at getting kids to say no to drugs really do remind me of my attempts to pass universal health care."

See? You can both delight your base while simultaneously not saying anything that can be read directly as an insult. I'm sure you have some old female friends from Arkansas who can give you lessons.

Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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Aids Elections 2016 Hillary Clinton Hiv Nancy Reagan