The phrase "started a national conversation" could mean a lot of things. Silence typically is not one of them.
In a Friday interview with MSNBC following the funeral of former First Lady Nancy Reagan, Clinton made comments on the Reagans' "low-key" activism on HIV/AIDS while in the White House, despite the fact that they really didn't have any.
Clinton's full comments were as follows:
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. When before, nobody would talk about it, nobody wanted to do anything about it, and that too is something that I really appreciate with her very effective low-key advocacy, but it penetrated the public conscience, and people began saying, 'Hey, we have to do something about this too.'"
Clinton has since released a statement saying she misspoke about the Reagan record on HIV/AIDS.
Mrs. Reagan's activism on HIV/AIDS was so low-key, you'd have a hard time finding it without looking very carefully. Other than a few mocking exchanges at press conferences, the White House was notoriously silent on HIV/AIDS for years. Ronald Reagan never even said the word AIDS until 1985, and didn't give a speech on the subject until 1987.
Documents uncovered by Buzzfeed show that Nancy Reagan herself turned down a request by her friend Rock Hudson for medical assistance when the actor was in the final stages of the disease.
In a PBS documentary on Nancy Reagan, historian Allida Black said that the First Lady did help convince her husband to fund AIDS research, but only after tens of thousands of people had died of the disease.
"I think that she deserves credit for opening up the AIDS money, but I could never say that without saying they never would have waited this long if it was red-headed sixth graders," Black said in the documentary.
The only conversation the Reagan administration started about HIV/AIDS was about how little they talked about HIV/AIDS.