Hillary Clinton’s near-collapse yesterday at an event commemorating those who died in the 9/11 attacks has now increased public scrutiny dramatically of the presidential nominees’ health.
Even before she faltered and had to be helped into an SUV to be driven to daughter Chelsea’s Manhattan apartment to recover, social media was rife with rumors about Hillary’s health. Clinton fanned those “Alt-Right” flames by telling the FBI during her interview in July about her use of private email for public business that because of a concussion she suffered in 2012, she could not remember all the security briefings she had been given as Secretary of State.
Clinton’s now-viral malaise is said to be pneumonia, and why wouldn’t she – and Republican rival Donald Trump – be run-down and susceptible to illness at this point? What is demanded of U.S. presidential aspirants is an inhuman grind for anyone, especially a 68-year-old woman (Clinton) and a 70-year-old man (Trump).
The toll campaigning takes, however, is a walk to the podium compared with actually being president. Just look at how George W. Bush or Barack Obama aged after two terms in the Oval Office. Being the chief executive of the most powerful nation on earth is a killer of a job that demands intense mental and physical stamina 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You don’t get weekends off, and there’s a crisis a minute.
The public may not have a right to know if you paid your taxes, but it certainly should be able to demand solid evidence that you are mentally and physically up to the intensity of the job. While Trump, who has questioned Clinton’s “stamina,” is holding tight to his tax returns, he said last week that he would release his full medical records.
For a few minutes in 1972, Senator Thomas Eagleton of Missouri was Democratic nominee George McGovern’s running mate. Had McGovern been elected instead of swamped by the landslide that made Richard Nixon president, Eagleton would have been the vice president and a heartbeat away from the presidency.
But after it was revealed that Eagleton had been treated for bouts of depression, and had received electroshock therapy, McGovern asked him to withdraw.
Painful as it was for Eagleton to have his mental history splashed across every paper in the country, voters had right to know about his condition because the possibility that a potential president might be impaired is a factor well worth weighing.
And Americans shouldn’t have to wonder if they are getting the straight story about a nominee’s health from “personal physicians.”
The complete truth about John F. Kennedy's medical conditions and ailments never came out until quite recently, although during the fight for the Democratic nomination in 1960, aides to rival Lyndon Johnson (who would become his vice president) said Kennedy had Addison's disease, which the Kennedy camp denied. But JFK's ailments didn't stop there or with his chronically bad back. He also suffered from infections, ulcers and colitis.
A 2013 story in The Atlantic says that "during his presidency—and in particular during times of stress, such as the Bay of Pigs fiasco in April of 1961, and the Cuban missile crisis, in October of 1962—Kennedy was taking an extraordinary variety of medications: steroids for his Addison’s disease; painkillers for his back; anti-spasmodics for his colitis; antibiotics for urinary-tract infections; antihistamines for allergies; and, on at least one occasion, an anti-psychotic (though only for two days) for a severe mood change...." And, of course, while Franklin Roosevelt was paralyzed from the waist down from the time he was 39, the press never mentioned the extent of his infirmity.
The U.S. has had a volunteer army since 1973, but male citizens are still required to register with the Selective Service when they turn 18. If there is a crisis requiring a draft, the Selective Service website says, men called to serve “would be examined for mental, physical, and moral fitness by the military before being deferred or exempted from military service or inducted into the Armed Forces.”
The country today is facing crises galore, and why should the rules be different for those who would be commander-in-chief?
“Moral fitness” may be a tough test, especially in this election, but before being chosen to serve by voters, presidential nominees should be examined for mental and physical fitness by top Army doctors – not the sympathetic sawbones they’ve been seeing for decades.
Who knows, Trump the draft evader could have a spur on his heel and get a deferment from the presidency. Or the docs at Walter Reed Medical Center might find that Clinton really does have a forked tongue.