How Much Are We Entitled to Know About a Presidential Candidate’s Health?

 

Karl Rove is coming under fire — more than usual — for remarks that he made at a public forum in Los Angeles last week calling into question the nature of Hillary Clinton’s injury when she suffered a concussion in late 2012. As reported in the New York Post:

The official diagnosis was a blood clot. Rove told the conference near LA Thursday, “Thirty days in the hospital? And when she reappears, she’s wearing glasses that are only for people who have traumatic brain injury? We need to know what’s up with that.”

Clinton, weakened by a stomach virus, fell in her Washington, DC, home in December 2012 and sustained a concussion. Her doctors said a blood clot had formed behind her right ear in the space between her brain and skull.

Hillary’s people, of course, have been quick to argue that she’s just fine, and Karl, for his part, has walked back the provocation. As Politico notes today, Rove said on Fox News:

“I never used that phrase [“brain damage”], I never used that phrase. But look, she had a serious health episode. And I don’t know about you, but if you go through a serious health episode, it causes you to look at life a little bit differently. This was a serious deal,” he said.

America’s Newsroom host Bill Hemmer challenged Rove on his timeline, saying his research showed that Clinton was in the hospital only for three days. Rove conceded the point about her hospital stay, but largely stuck by his month-long timeline. “She goes in on a Sunday, she comes out on a Wednesday. But this is a 30-day period where she’s fighting something.”

The Republican strategist said his main point was that her health will invariably come up on the campaign trail if she chooses to run for the Democratic nomination in 2016.

The revised version is pretty thin gruel. A health scare that “causes you to look at life a little bit differently” is (A) not that uncommon, especially for someone of an age as advanced as most presidential candidates and (B) not any more relevant to someone’s potential presidency than any number of other turning points in life, be they medical or not.

What I find more interesting are the original comments. While Rove overstated his case, the underlying point doesn’t seem crazy: if a sitting president experienced severe head trauma, wouldn’t it only be natural to wonder if there were any lingering effects? Why treat a potential candidate any differently?

Concerns about health are very different in the executive branch than in the legislative branch. Consider, for instance, two US senators who’ve had severe strokes in recent years — South Dakota’s Tim Johnson and Illinois’ Mark Kirk. Both were unable to discharge their duties for a time and returned to the job, understandably, in a somewhat diminished capacity. In a collective decision-making body with 98 other members, however, you can make that work without much disruption to the process of governing the country. By contrast, think about the stroke that sent Woodrow Wilson to the sidelines during his second term as president, essentially rendering him a peripheral figure in his own administration. If a legislator becomes incapacitated, it’s an institutional inconvenience. If a president becomes incapacitated, it can potentially be a constitutional crisis.

The question, then, is how much information the public is entitled to have before casting their votes. Some instances seem obvious. Had Ronald Reagan already begun displaying signs of Alzheimer’s before his reelection (and I use this purely as a hypothetical, as I’m unable to deduce any method by which one can judge between the wildly varying accounts of when Reagan’s dementia began manifesting), the public clearly would have been better off knowing. Similarly, you’d probably want to be aware if your Commander-in-Chief was a full-blown alcoholic (not all of them are as transparent as Andrew Johnson, who was blitzed when he gave his inaugural address as vice president).

But what about the less clear-cut issues? Should the public have been told about the pharmaceutical cocktails that fueled John F. Kennedy’s presidency? Should we know if a president is using an anti-depressant (as several of them likely would have been if they were available at the time)? Does the public have a right to know Chris Christie’s blood pressure? 

Where do you think the lines are between a presidential candidate’s responsibility to be upfront with the public and their right to at least a modicum of privacy? And what kind of health concerns could keep you from voting for a candidate that you’d otherwise support?

There are 20 comments.

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  1. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    There are 30,000 pictures of FDR in the Hyde Park Presidential Library. Three of them show Roosevelt in his wheelchair. When FDR gave Stalin half of Europe at Yalta do you think he was in his right mind? How much should we know? Everything.

    • #1
  2. user_199279 Coolidge
    user_199279
    @ChrisCampion

    I guess this is as relevant a question as, oh, I don’t know, let’s say something crazy like college transcripts. Are they really relevant in terms of the public being able to assess a candidate?

    I don’t think it’s unfair or rude or anything to ask for whatever information the public might want that pertains to doing to the job.  That includes health issues, and while I don’t think the country needs to see medical records there should be some kind of voluntary disclosure by candidates of their medical history.  This is a bit less critical if you’re running for the local school board; it’s more critical if you’re the CiC.

    • #2
  3. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Hillary’s special glasses after the incident have a prism to correct for double vision caused by misalignment of the eye(s). The underlying cause of the misalignment (strabismus) must have been related to the incident and indicate an impingement on the nerve(s) controlling eye muscle movement. I know this from Kate’s experience.

    It seems the story of the clot is plausible. And, technically, calling her “brain damaged” might be correct, although it seems a temporary condition.

    The question for me is (or would be, if I would ever even consider voting for Hillary), is there an underlying condition making her susceptible to more of these incidents? If she had something as serious as a brain tumor and was still insisting on running for president, we’d have to question her sanity. And, yes, that would be disqualifying, but I doubt that’s the case.

    How much should we know? Probably more than we do, or ever will.

    • #3
  4. Nick Stuart Inactive
    Nick Stuart
    @NickStuart

    When Reagan had colon cancer, I can remember a page 1 graphic explaining the procedure in exacting detail. Every aspect of his illness was discussed. No stone left unturned, no polyp left unexamined.

    Clinton drops out of sight, vague descriptions of unspecified illness chalked up to “flu.” Nobody knows where she was or what she was doing in the 48 hours following the phone call from Greg Hicks. Nothing to see here, move on folks.

    One more example of the media letting Lefties skate, while giving the full anal probe to Conservatives.

    • #4
  5. PsychLynne Inactive
    PsychLynne
    @PsychLynne

    I think we should know…and of course, since we’re conservatives, it will all come out.  But seriously, I’m fine with anti-depressants (SSRIs, tricyclics even), but less so with the anti-psychotics which are sometimes given for severe depressions.  Chronic pain control with opiates/narcotic or benzodiazepines (e.g., xanax, valium) are also a problem for me with a commander in chief.  Too much slowed thinking with both classes.  But lots of meds can have sedative side effects, so maybe I’m being overly sensitive.  And of course, dementia has pretty subtle early signs (just watch 24….)

    • #5
  6. 3rd angle projection Member
    3rd angle projection
    @

    Let’s look at it this way……If Romney took a fall a year or two out from 2012, disappeared for a stretch and then showed up in public, let alone a Congressional hearing wearing lenses fit for a lighthouse, do you think the left would have said, “Let’s lay off the kid. I’m sure there’s nothing to it.” Bull horse hockey puck. Whatever. I want to know everything. I want to know if she gets bit by a mosquito because it may mean West Nile Virus. Everything known. I even want to know what causes her cankles. It could be a side effect of a drug to treat West Nile Virus. But maybe not. But I still want to know…..Isn’t strange to think as a Libprog thinks. I gotta go take a shower.

    • #6
  7. user_124695 Inactive
    user_124695
    @DavidWilliamson

    I’d be more interested in what she was doing the nite of the Benghazi attacks, err, I mean, demonstrations about a US video.

    Anyway, as the Instapundit points out, it is hard to tell the difference – err, indeed doesn’t, at this point, make any difference. 

    Besides, it could be PTSD from her masterful landing of a plane, under enemy fire, in Bosnia.

    Or, all those Air miles.

    • #7
  8. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    I think the insinuation is well played.   As nasty as the Clintons are and have been, there are no holds barred.  If they can’t explain this away, and they will certainly try, then we should assume the worst.

    • #8
  9. Vance Richards Member
    Vance Richards
    @VanceRichards

    So the thinking is, “Since her record is unblemished, our only hope is to focus on her health”?

    Rove vs. Clinton. As a conservative I can honestly say I don’y have a dog in that fight.

    • #9
  10. Casey Member
    Casey
    @Casey

    Brief aside… I never before heard of strabismus and now I’m hearing it all the time.

    A father at tee ball just last night mentioned he had this condition.  Weird how that happens.

    • #10
  11. Casey Member
    Casey
    @Casey

    I say we need to know any condition that may cause a President to go suddenly offline for awhile.

    • #11
  12. Pilli Inactive
    Pilli
    @Pilli

    Presidential health issues.  All the more reason to pay attention to who the Vice President is or will be.

    • #12
  13. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    I don’t believe that a presidential candidate should be obligated to disclose their entire medical history, but at the same time I don’t believe that voters (and/or media, political opponents, etc) should be prohibited or discouraged from asking questions and demanding answers about a candidate’s medical history.

    In other words, voters aren’t “entitled” to the information, but voters do have the right to take medical history (and/or the lack of disclosure) into account when making voting decisions.

    When a candidate says something like, “it’s not relevant and you’re a terrible person for even asking the question,” that should be a red flag for voters that the candidate does not respect them.

    The only information that voters are “entitled” to are proof of age, proof of 14 years’ residency in the USA, and proof of “natural-born” citizenship, as those are the three requirements laid out in the Constitution.

    All other information disclosure is a political decision.

    • #13
  14. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Western Chauvinist: How much should we know? Probably more than we do, or ever will.

    Better yet, if the role of the President was reduced to its proper limited place, many of these questions would be much less important.

    The only reason voters feel they need so much information about candidates is because the role of politicians in society has been inflated far beyond what’s necessary.

    The health problems of a totalitarian emperor are far more important than the health problems of a limited president.

    • #14
  15. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Skyler:

    I think the insinuation is well played. As nasty as the Clintons are and have been, there are no holds barred. If they can’t explain this away, and they will certainly try, then we should assume the worst.

    Indeed, they could have followed Jack Ryan’s advice from Clear and Present Danger: If you disclose everything it leaves your opposition nowhere to go.

    On the other hand, if she knows that her brain is perfectly fine (from a medical point-of-view”) then giving Republicans enough rope to hang themselves by delaying disclosure could be a fine gas lighting tactic, in the same vein as Obama withholding his birth certificate for so long.

    • #15
  16. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    EJHill:

    There are 30,000 pictures of FDR in the Hyde Park Presidential Library. Three of them show Roosevelt in his wheelchair. When FDR gave Stalin half of Europe at Yalta do you think he was in his right mind? How much should we know? Everything.

    Demanding to know “everything” is asking the impossible. There’s no way a person can disclose “everything” about themselves.

    Asking to be told that they need a wheelchair to get around, on the other hand, isn’t asking that much.

    (Aside: How many photos are there in the JFK library of him in his wheelchair? He used one too, a lot, because of his back pain.)

    • #16
  17. Eeyore Member
    Eeyore
    @Eeyore

    Fortunately, in our current situation, if something serious happened to our President, Valerie Jarrett would be able to brief the nation on a daily basis.This would include the decisions the President is making, the Executive Orders he is enacting, the troops he’s committing, etc. Then the press would keep us informed and we would have no need for further information.

    • #17
  18. user_340536 Member
    user_340536
    @ShaneMcGuire

    If the public’s biggest concern about Hillary is her health, that’s a problem. If the public wants Hillary, but only if it’s confident we can have 8 years of her in full swing….we’re in trouble.

    • #18
  19. Fricosis Guy Listener
    Fricosis Guy
    @FricosisGuy

    Misthiocracy:

    I don’t believe that a presidential candidate should be obligated to disclose their entire medical history, but at the same time I don’t believe that voters (and/or media, political opponents, etc) should be prohibited or discouraged from asking questions and demanding answers about a candidate’s medical history.

    In other words, voters aren’t “entitled” to the information, but voters do have the right to take medical history (and/or the lack of disclosure) into account when making voting decisions.

    When a candidate says something like, “it’s not relevant and you’re a terrible person for even asking the question,” that should be a red flag for voters that the candidate does not respect them.

    The only information that voters are “entitled” to are proof of age, proof of 14 years’ residency in the USA, and proof of “natural-born” citizenship, as those are the three requirements laid out in the Constitution.

    All other information disclosure is a political decision.

    I think this is right, but it points to the problem when one withholds information.

    Bush 43 and his advisers — including one Karl Rove —  did not come clean about his DUI arrest.  Rather, he had spoke in general terms about alcohol overuse, its consequences, and coming to abstinence. Of course, that late disclosure turned what would have been a clear win into the disaster that was Bush v. Gore.

    This points to the risk that Hillary takes if she really suffered serious damage from that fall. If there’s a MRI or three floating around that shows a brain injury, she’ll suffer similar consequences.

    • #19
  20. HeartofAmerica Inactive
    HeartofAmerica
    @HeartofAmerica

    Pilli:

    Presidential health issues. All the more reason to pay attention to who the Vice President is or will be.

     Exactly my thought. As much as I would love for Obama to leave office, the mere thought of being stuck with Biden scares the bejeezuz out of me. Elections matter. Choose Wisely.

    • #20

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