As I was getting ready for work this morning, I noticed the news program I was watching focused mostly on one story—it wasn’t the 9/11 memorials or the ceasefire in Syria after a bloody weekend. It was about Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton falling ill on the campaign trail. As pundits and reporters speculated whether her hacking cough last week was not seasonal allergies, as she initially claimed, but the first sign of pneumonia that will certainly take her life, I thought, “why is this news?”
Why are we acting like a person who is shoved in the face of the unwashed masses of America every day can’t get sick? Why does this fairly common illness–3 million cases are reported each year in the United States—drum up concerns for her “physical fitness” for the presidency? Why are we asking her to disclose her medical records, when that would be a human resources violation for anyone else vying for a job?
The physical health and wellbeing of a candidate should have no bearing on the viability of that candidate. While it might be good to know if a candidate has Stage 4 pancreatic cancer with potentially only three months to live, a case of pneumonia does not warrant a full disclosure of one’s health record.
I can hear the feverish clacking of keyboards—What do you mean it doesn’t matter? Hundreds of thousands of people die from pneumonia every day! She’s so old; we need to know if she’s going to keel over and die during the inauguration.
My reasoning is simple, a person’s current health status, particularly a person as spry as Mrs. Clinton, is irrelevant because one’s health status can change at any point. She could completely recover from this case of pneumonia, go on to win the election in November and live for another 20 years with no major health complications.
Or, hypothetically speaking, she could receive an ovarian cancer diagnosis a year into her presidency. The incidence of ovarian cancer increases with age, reaching its peak with septuagenarian women. Ovarian cancer is rarely found in the early stages when five-year survival rates are above 90 percent. Women like Mrs. Clinton, who are older than 65, tend to have a lower survival rate and receive less adequate treatment. Though, one would assume the president would have all the bells and whistled pulled.
The fact of the matter is, several former presidents had severe health conditions that did not deter them from holding office. Most notably, Franklin Delano Roosevelt had polio, which confined him to a wheelchair. When he ran for (and won) reelection in 1944, he was dying. Three months after his inauguration, he had a fatal stroke. President Grover Cleveland had a cancerous tumor in his mouth secretly removed while on a yachting trip. He used his signature mustache to cover up the scar. Our nation’s first president survived several bouts with diphtheria, dysentery, epiglottitis, malaria, pleurisy, pneumonia, smallpox, and tuberculosis. On his deathbed, he had 80 ounces of blood removed in the span of 12 hours, roughly 35 percent of all the blood in his body. Presidents Abraham Lincoln, John Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan, were shot. Two of those three died from those wounds.
President William Harrison only lasted two hours as president—catching pneumonia during his inauguration, which was treated with opium and bleeding.
You could be saying, well the common denominator with most of these presidents is they were all old.
Well, being young doesn’t automatically mean you’re healthier or going to live long.
The growing drug epidemic has led to significant drug-related deaths in this country. Nationwide, the drug overdose mortality rate more than doubled among people aged 12 to 25—up 7.3 deaths per 100,000 in 2011-2013 from 3.1 deaths in 1999-2001, according to the Trust for America’s Health report. The Centers for Disease Control says the rate of young people dying from cardiac arrest has soared in the last ten years. In general, millennials—young adults born between 1982 and 2002—will likely have a shorter life expectancy than the generations before them. A 2005 article published in the New England Journal of Medicine found life expectancy for the average American could decline by as much as five years unless aggressive efforts are made to slow rising rates of obesity. This would be the first time that children would have shorter lives than their parents.
So no, Mrs. Clinton’s age shouldn’t matter when deciding whether she’s fit enough for the job. Mrs. Clinton, who is two years younger than her opponent, seems mentally sharp. This is not an endorsement of her, I think she fits nicely into that “basket of deplorables” she mentioned at a fundraiser. But that does not mean she is too old for the job. In America, most of our captains of industry are far from spring chickens. The average age of the 2009 Forbes 400 list was 65.8 years. To run for President of the United States, you have to be grazing middle age. So the odds that you have a 68-year-old candidate is pretty high.
So what’s the point of this article?
Well, it’s to say that the constant dialogue about the candidate’s health and mental status has no place in presidential politics, primarily because it is not a good indicator of one’s potential to do well. It’s a distraction from the real issues, like the rise of terrorism since the 9/11 attacks or the reprehensible acts of violence on innocent people in Syria.