When Americans are choosing a president, they have a right to understand the health and medical history of the candidates. Voluntary disclosure of such facts would serve the politicians as well as the people, putting to rest rumors and forestalling the kind of media mayhem the nation witnessed Sunday when Hillary Clinton had to be aided as she left a 9/11 memorial service in New York City.
While too late for this election cycle, it’s time to formalize and standardize the release of medical information about presidential candidates.
Sunday’s incident was a classic “Clinton world” public relations fumble. It quickly evolved from raising questions about her well-being to ones about her lack of transparency. First, video surfaced showing Clinton being assisted as she stumbled while boarding a van. She was taken to daughter Chelsea Clinton’s Manhattan apartment, where she came out 90 minutes later to greet a child on the sidewalk and tell the news media she was “feeling great.” Clinton then went to the family home in Chappaqua, leaving reporters who routinely follow in the dust. Her personal physician examined her and around 5 p.m. released a statement saying Clinton was “rehydrating and recovering nicely,” adding that she was taking antibiotics for pneumonia, which was diagnosed Friday. Statements further refined on Monday only added to the confusion.
Clinton turns 69 next month, and has been dogged by accusations, untrue and conspiratorial, that she is in poor mental and physical health. Opponent Donald Trump, 70, says she doesn’t have physical and mental stamina.
The rumors, however, have been fed by Clinton’s tendency to rarely reveal anything until it’s been proved by other means.
Over the years, there has been no consistency in the disclosure of medical information by candidates and presidents. The public knew little about the stroke Woodrow Wilson suffered in office, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s polio or heart disease, John F. Kennedy’s Addison’s disease or the various issues Richard Nixon took medications to address.
Of late, candidates have released enough information to quiet critics. With the young and active Barack Obama in 2008, a doctor’s letter that said he was quitting smoking, was generally healthy and jogged was enough. Bob Dole, at 73, released his full records, while former prisoner-of-war John McCain, 72 when he ran, let selected members of the media and doctors look at 1,100 pages of material.
But this race has been a low point in medical transparency. For Donald Trump, we got a letter from Dr. Harold Bornstein, written in five minutes, assuring us he’d be “the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency,” which suggests an unlikely familiarity with 43 men who were president. From Clinton, we’ve gotten an analysis of some issues already public, like her concussion and blood clots, but the information is incomplete.
Military doctors should examine serious presidential candidates as they do presidents, review their medical records and tell the public about any health issues that could influence the person’s ability to be commander in chief. That would be a reasonable and responsible way to tell voters what they need to know.— The editorial board