Long before it was known that Hillary Clinton had pneumonia, there were already rumors and conspiracy theories surrounding her health. Speculation surrounding her coughing fits were making their way through conservative media and even Donald Trump made it a point to mention her health on his Twitter account. However, this all changed once Clinton’s diagnosis of pneumonia became public knowledge and while the conspiracy theories pertaining to her health are hard to believe, both candidates have been coaxed into being open about their health with voters.
Following Mrs. Clinton’s diagnosis, her campaign released an update on her health from her physician Dr. Lisa Bardack. Noting that her pneumonia was improving, the statement released by the Clinton campaign also included the antibiotics she was using for the pneumonia. It also included a summary of her history with blood clots, her previous head injury (a concussion in 2012), any medications she was currently taking, and her family’s history concerning cardiac health.
Compare this with Mr. Trump’s letter from his doctor, Dr. Harold N. Bornstein, whose summary was much shorter than the one released by the Clinton campaign. Mr. Trump’s public statement from his doctor included a summary of his dietary health and weight, his cardiac health, and his orthopedic issues (which allowed him to defer from the Vietnam War). It failed to mention that Mr. Trump’s father developed Alzheimer’s disease during his late 80’s. Both candidates are currently at the age where the risk for Alzheimer’s is very high, but both candidates have not mentioned any tests concerning their neurological health.
It’s important to know that a presidential candidate is healthy, but where is the limit when it comes to sharing private information about one’s health? Past presidents such as FDR, Woodrow Wilson, and Grover Cleveland all suffered health issues or had a history of health issues, but this time the issue of a candidate’s health has made its way to mainstream news.
Matthew Algeo, a historian who wrote a book about President Cleveland’s unknown cancer, explained why presidents, and even presidential candidates, are so wary when it comes to the topic of health. “With presidents, a lot of time they don’t get the best care. You would expect they would, but they’re so paranoid about anyone knowing what’s wrong with them that they employ old family doctors.”
Past presidents have kept their health secret from the public, either based on their beliefs on what justified as shareable to the public or simply because it was political strategy. President Eisenhower suffered a heart attack during his term and reporters were informed that he merely had a “digestive upset during the night”.
Is the health of a presidential candidate really that important? To some extent, yes. It’s fair to say that the public should be made aware if the potential president has a disease or condition that could make their job harder. That doesn’t mean that it will stop them from doing their job. Perhaps the most ardent example of a president who was able to serve despite his health was Franklin Roosevelt. A paraplegic, President Roosevelt was able to serve 12 years as President of the United States, and the public admired him even more for doing so.
A coughing fit is nothing when looking at the track record of past presidents, and a bout of pneumonia is serious, but nothing too crazy or dangerous when compared to more serious health issues such as cancer. Nicole Hemmer, an assistant professor at the University of Virginia, explained the differences between health issues of the past presidents and the presidential candidates of today, “Candidates’ health matters more in terms of optics today than it used to, but less in terms of actual ability to hold the office.”
The New York Times: