Why couldn’t Hillary Clinton just be honest and say she had pneumonia when she got that diagnosis from her physician?
Because Donald Trump might have tweeted something like, “I told you so . . . the little lady doesn’t have the stamina to run the country”? Or more probably, something even meaner.
So what? Instead, Clinton took a gamble and remained silent. Then came her wobbly exit from Sunday’s 9/11 ceremony in New York. Now Clinton’s health is front and center in this campaign — just as Trump wanted it to be. And because it’s Hillary, Trump is also turning the presence of a common lung infection into an honesty test. “Lack of transparency is an overarching theme,” declared Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager.
Does anyone believe Trump has been completely transparent about his own health? Last December, he got a doctor to declare, in classic Trumpian fashion, that the candidate would be “the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.” As recounted by The New York Times, “The physician, Dr. Harold Bornstein, later told NBC News that he had written the statement in five minutes while a black car waited outside his office to collect it.”
Trump, 70, is now saying he’ll release more medical information on “The Dr. Oz Show’’ on Thursday. Fine, let him do it. But his tax returns would tell us more about Trump than his cholesterol count — and those tax numbers are what Clinton and voters should continue to demand from him.
As a matter of political reality, however, Clinton, 68, now faces more skepticism about her overall health. If voters don’t believe the pneumonia story is the whole truth, that’s because Trump and surrogates like former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani have been so adept at spreading ugly health-related rumors about her. Even though Clinton has already disclosed far more medical information than Trump, the pressure is on her to release more, and her campaign said it will.
Sexism plays a role in this matter, given Trump’s preferred narrative of women as weak and unstable. But there are legitimate questions connected to Clinton’s known medical history, which includes a concussion she experienced in 2012, resulting in a blood clot in her head and double vision. With Clinton, trustworthiness is also a voter concern she can’t afford to ignore.
As David Axelrod, President Obama’s former campaign strategist, put it, Clinton’s pneumonia can be treated with antibiotics. What can’t be treated, said Axelrod, is “an unhealthy penchant for privacy that repeatedly creates unnecessary problems.”
If the Clinton campaign is covering up some dire physical condition, that’s obviously wrong. But so far, there’s no proof of such massive subterfuge.
History tells us that presidents from Woodrow Wilson to John F. Kennedy and beyond have been less than candid about their health. The public began demanding more information after Paul Tsongas made a White House run in 1992, as “the first presidential candidate to run openly as a cancer survivor,” as Time put it. As Time also noted, the 1994 announcement that former President Reagan had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease also put presidential health on the front burner. In 2008, John McCain, then 71, released thousands of pages of medical records.
How much transparency is enough? In this era of reality TV, perhaps we want a nationally televised physical exam, where weight and blood pressure are taken, blood is drawn in real time, and lab results are posted as they come in. But which lab tests? They can get very personal.
Pneumonia doesn’t fall into that category. Clinton should have disclosed the diagnosis when she got it. Given the way it played out, the follow-up diagnosis is even worse: political malpractice.