In Sickness and in Health

This past weekend, while the press was once again ignoring all the many scandals surrounding and – to put it mildly – all the “misstatements” from Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton decided that being at a 9/11 memorial ceremony was worth toughing out a mild case of pneumonia.

She wasn’t able to do so and had to be helped off the scene, leading to yet another round of questions about her health and “fitness” for the Office of President.

In all the hubbub, shouldn’t one be asking why we care about a candidate’s health in the first place?

It is fair to say that the job comes with the best health care the country can offer. But it is also fair to say that the job is also the most stressful in the world. And stress does exacerbate health problems. Also, as president, you don’t get to call in sick if you don’t feel up to it. And your “vacations” aren’t really what most people consider vacations to be. You don’t really get anything like a day off.

Even in the case of a serious, incapacitating illness, the 25th Amendment gives a procedure whereby the Vice-President can take over the duties of the job.

And it’s not like we expect our leaders to be at the forefront of an army heading off to battle. Or that somehow his (or her) physical condition is an indication of the morality of the country.

The core of the issue is that we would rather our president not be having an “off day” when a crisis happens. We need calm and level-headed judgment that is not clouded by fever, headache, or any medications.

We’ve been lucky in the recent past; the past three presidents have all been young and in good health overall, with nothing more than you’d expect from a person their age(s) and the natural shocks that flesh is heir to. We haven’t had to worry about any hospital stays or problems with medications in decades.

So, should we still be concerned?

Well, a little. Clinton would be the second oldest president after Ronald Reagan. While people are living longer and healthier now than ever before, there still comes a time when Time catches up with you. Not only does the body start to fail, the mind begins to decline as well. We saw that with Reagan and his Alzheimer’s. The stresses of the job can only accelerate that decline.

Given that no one wants a senile president (we know what to do in the case of physical incapacity, but mental?), a close look at a candidate’s health is justifiable. But it should not necessarily be a disqualification. Keep an eye on their suggestions for cabinet officers and the Vice Presidential candidate.

By the way, Trump is two years older than Clinton……


There’s an interesting site where “Doctor Zebra” has been collecting information on all the confirmed medical issues of our presidents: It’s worth a look.

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