America’s voters are entitled to detailed information about the health of prospective presidential candidates. But we need to ask ourselves: What do we do with it once we get it?
We have witnessed a strange do-si-do from Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump regarding their health records. Both have conditionally promised to make the results of medical examinations public, but both have been hesitant at best about doing so.
The Republican rumor machine had been operating at full throttle regarding Clinton’s alleged health problems based largely on the evidence of a few coughing spells. Clinton no doubt felt safe ignoring the jabber until she nearly passed out after hurriedly leaving a 9/11 memorial service Sunday.
Campaign officials belatedly revealed she had been diagnosed with walking pneumonia but decided to power through it – until she couldn’t. Antibiotics and a few days of bed rest were prescribed.
Why didn’t she just produce the complete health records weeks ago and cut off the conjecture before it took flight? It would have been so easy – and, unfortunately, so atypical of Hillary Clinton.
Clinton produced a doctor’s report this week on her bout with pneumonia and promised to release a full health report within days.
Trump had produced a report weeks ago on his health, a preposterous one. It consisted of a letter from his personal physician, Dr. Harold Bornstein, that was written in five minutes while a limo sent by Trump idled outside the doctor’s office.
One excerpt: “If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”
But Trump, not to be outdone by Clinton, was back Wednesday with more health information. He appeared Thursday on “The Dr. Oz Show,” hosted by Dr. Mehmet Oz, and produced a one-page summary of a physical exam – by none other than Dr. Bornstein – that showed him to be in decent physical shape.
More details may be forthcoming, but with Trump, you never can be sure.
Then again, how do we process whatever detailed medical data the two candidates might provide? Perhaps if the records revealed that Clinton is addicted to prescription painkillers or that Trump had spent a few months in a mental institution, that might be useful information in deciding which candidate to vote for.
But so far the news is not nearly so exciting. We do know, after the Dr. Oz show, that Trump, at 236 lbs. – or was it 267 lbs.? – is overweight for his height.
We eagerly await news on how Clinton tips the scales.
Meanwhile, consider Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States. FDR was felled in 1921 at age 39 by what doctors diagnosed at the time as poliomyelitis but might instead have been Guillain-Barre syndrome, which left him paralyzed from the waist down.
He was unable to stand or walk without support, and relied on a wheelchair to get around. Yet he never fully revealed the extent of his paralysis to the public and never appeared publicly in his wheelchair.
He liked martinis and smoked dozens of unfiltered Camels each day, which probably contributed to his high blood pressure and heart disease. He also suffered frequently from acute bronchitis and might have been a frequent cougher.
He died at the age of 63, three months into his fourth term as president. But despite his paralysis and other serious health problems, he steered the nation through the Great Depression and World War II, won four presidential elections and became one of the most revered leaders of the 20th century.
Ironically, if a modern candidate were to reveal a health report resembling FDR’s, it might disqualify him or her from being seriously considered as a candidate. So, maybe we need to worry less about Clinton’s fainting spells or Trump’s BMI and more about how they each say they intend the run the country.
Americans deserve to know the basic state of the candidates’ health. But, realistically, we might already know enough about them to cast an informed vote even before we get that information.
James Werrell is opinion page editor for The Herald.