Hillary Clinton is sick. According to her doctor, it’s a bout of pneumonia, which can be fairly debilitating, but which is generally short-lived. So she should be back on the nation-crossing trail before too long.
There’s a reason, though, that this straightforward story about a candidate with a common bug has sparked so much speculation: At 68, Clinton is relatively old for a presidential candidate; she’s long been smeared with right-wing rumors of a secret ailment; and she hasn’t disclosed much information about her health.
Shared medical information has been standard practice since Ronald Reagan, but this year is an exception, with the public having seen just two pages from Clinton’s primary physician and four risible paragraphs from Donald Trump’s gastroenterologist up to this point.
That’s about to change, as both candidates pledged Monday to offer more detail.
Why haven’t the candidates shared more information about their health?
Last year, the Clinton campaign provided a relatively detailed, two-page health summary from her doctor, which included a testament to her general well-being and a description of some former health issues, like the concussion and brain clot she suffered in 2012.
Since then, however, there haven’t been any updates.
That’s still more than Trump has offered. So far the only account of Trump’s health is a hastily written document from Trump’s doctor declaring that the candidate would be “the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”
As to why these candidates have proved so guarded about their medical history, only they know for sure. But the impulse is hardly mysterious. Odds are your own health record contains some private and personal details you’d rather not have to explain. Perhaps the candidates, too, have some slight but embarrassing issues they’d rather keep to themselves.
Or perhaps they have some principled objection to sharing medical information. There is a decent argument against over-sharing. If candidates fear that their medical lives will be broadcast to the public, they may withhold crucial information from their doctors, which would be bad for them and potentially bad for the country (say, if their restraint allows a treatable condition to take hold and affect their presidential decision-making).
What have past candidates done?
There is no clear standard for what needs to be released and what can be withheld. But in recent elections, most candidates have provided updated information about their health throughout the campaign — occasionally allowing the press to speak directly to their doctors.
One reason this has become standard campaign practice is because there really is a history of presidential obfuscation. Woodrow Wilson had a debilitating stroke, which was kept from public view. Franklin Delano Roosevelt successfully convinced the press not to share pictures of him in his wheelchair. Severe and undisclosed pain kept John Kennedy on a regular regimen of serious medication. And questions persist about whether Ronald Reagan’s struggle with Alzheimer’s began while in office.
Will Clinton and Trump release more details?
Trump said Monday morning that he’s planning to share more information about his current health, following a physical last week.
The Clinton camp quickly followed suit, promising a new round of details. That could quell the current questions about her health. But it may also be the wrong place to look.
In a matter of days, Clinton is expected to return to the draining schedule of a presidential run. If she quickly finds her old form, that’ll be the best evidence that she really was hit by a tough but temporary bug.