A public coughing spell, a filmed faint or near so, and a clumsy claim of overheating on a day that was not hot has put one old presidential candidate's health on center stage, along with another old presidential candidate's lack of a public tax return, and a flabby claim of his good health by a physician that none of us should consider visiting for our next check up.
One can argue against the release of either tax returns or health reports.
Both of them mask at least as much as they reveal, and lend themselves to assertions of financial integrity or good health that are not justified. Both also lend themselves to nitpicking by opponents. Hillary's tax returns don't say much about the dicey issues associated with the Clinton Foundation. Trump's physician's claim that he would be "the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency" sounded less like the conclusion of a health professional than like an attorney claiming moral purity for a client high in the Mafia. Another physician, not apparently in Trump's camp, said that Trump's physician's report "lacked much medical detail."
Hillary's bill of health from a supporting physician may be accurate, but it comes against a history that produces skepticism if not doubt.
The scuzziest tale of a physician masking a president's health may be that associated with Woodrow Wilson's debilitating stroke. Yet it was not alone in presidential history. John F. Kennedy's Addison disease was kept quiet, but was arguably limiting. Scars from venereal disease came to light years after they were found in his autopsy. Ronald Reagan's Alzheimer's was known after he left office, and we can wonder if his uncertainties about policy details or the identity of Cabinet Members during his presidency were indications of its onset.
In the early hours after Hillary's latest incident, Donald Trump was wisely quiet about his opponent's health. Then he wished her well, and later began again to talk about her reliability. We can only speculate how he was chortling about that video of her walk to the car.
His own weakness has been more clearly financial than medical. About this, Hillary is not quiet. She called attention to his bankruptcy and reputation for rapacious dealings that were costly to his investors and clients.
Donald's excess weight is something for all to see and for many to write about.
A columnist for Forbes told his readers to "Forget Trump's Presidential Tax Returns." He noted that Trump had offered to release his return only if Clinton was more forthcoming about her e-mails. It is Trump's style to deride government waste and assert that he pays as little tax as possible. And many of the people who support Trump are not likely to be worrying about his relationship with the IRS.
Whatever comes of Hillary's health and Donald's business record, the world is left with two dicey candidates, arguably the worst set of alternatives to reach the playoffs since 1789.
Currently circulating is a Message from the Queen, which first appeared in a slightly different form years before the Hillary-Donald confrontation. It is addressed to citizens of the United States, and begins
"In light of your failure in recent years to nominate competent candidates for President of the USA and thus to govern yourselves, we hereby give notice of the revocation of your independence, effective immediately. (You should look up 'revocation' in the Oxford English Dictionary.)Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will resume monarchical duties over all states, commonwealths, and territories (except North Dakota, which she does not fancy). . . .
Having spent part of a December lecturing in North Dakota, and acquiring frost bite in the process, I can understand the Queen's reservation. Maybe Canada will do everyone a favor and take on the burden.
For the rest of the Queen's message, click here.
Anyone expecting a complete and accurate account of a presidential candidate's health or finances should think again. Politicians at that level are surrounded, coddled and screened off from the rest of us by a large number of people concerned with security, as well as aides specializing in a number of policy and political fields, sycophants, and spin doctors (physicians included). Their purpose is to protect the candidate from physical or political harm, and to make sure that every statement, failure to speak, and movement looks good.
The same discouragement applies to anyone anticipating a full disclosure of the candidates' policy intentions. Ambiguity and doublespeak are the languages employed. Moreover, conditions change, and no candidate should be expected to say in September of 2016 how he/she will respond to what happens after January, 2017. And either candidate would have to deal with a Congress likely to be testy, as well as a professional layer in the bureaucracy schooled in how to manage presidential appointees. Anything to do with foreign affairs comes up against other governments, many of which are not pushovers for American charm.
None of which means that an election is insignificant. However, choices depend on the whims, proclivities, and perceptions of the voters, few of whom are interested or capable of filtering the spins offered by the candidates themselves, along with spokespeople, the candidate's physicians and financial representatives.
The tasks expected of a President or presidential candidate are enough to challenge anyone who is healthy and substantially younger than either Hillary or Donald. Time is not their own. They can't count on a night's sleep. Travel across time zones and oceans is constant. Despite the comforts that come with the job, it's beyond what most can do, even before they reach old age.
And don't forget, they are expected to do all that, and still respond wisely on a range of policy issues that spill over the US borders to touch on much else in this multi-cultural and dynamic world.
Hillary's physician says that she is fit to be President, however, only a minority of Americans think that either Hillary or Donald is fit for the job.
For those in the majority or one of the minorities, as well as others who may be indifferent, comments are welcome.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)Irashark@gmail.com
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem