By now we have all witnessed the “wobble seen around the world” as Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, left the 9-11 commemorative event in New York City. Rumors have circulated for several weeks about her consistent cough on the campaign trail and social memes have had a field day with speculation on her physical health. Just recently it was announced that Mrs. Clinton was diagnosed with pneumonia and was on antibiotics.
Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump, when he first entered the race, completed his battery of current tests and had his physician of 39 years, Harold Bornstein, release a letter publicly declaring that if elected, Mr. Trump will be the healthiest president ever elected. It was a YUGE health announcement.
In light of the recent health controversy we wanted to take a look at America’s fascination and interest in the health of our elected POTUS is nothing new—but with advent of instant reporting on social media and the twenty-four hour news cycle, Americans are more obsessed than ever with every little sneeze or sweat.
We have elected many presidents with health issues—some severe. However, with media being predominantly print, radio or news films at the theater, chronic conditions were easily disguised. Do you think a Presidential candidate with similar diagnoses could win today?
Franklin Roosevelt, (1933-1945) was stricken with Polio in 1921 at the age of 39. As a member of an iconic American family, his illness was well publicized. However, the toll of the disease on his body was disguised. Paralyzed from the waist down, he normally required a wheelchair but was careful to never be seen publicly in his chair. During public events, even laboriously long speeches, he stood in leg braces and canes or crutches—and had assistance from many close confidants—most often, his son James.
Woodrow Wilson, (1913-1921), another early 20th Century president, kept his poor health a secret as well. Along with hypertension, headaches, and double vision, Wilson suffered from a series of strokes, rendering him blind in his left eye, paralyzing his left side and forcing him into a wheelchair. Once his paralysis was discovered, congress scrambled to create and enact the 25th Amendment, stating that the vice president will take power upon the president’s death, resignation, or disability.
John F Kennedy (1961-1963) was the picture of health—from sailing at Hyannis Port to the traditional family Thanksgiving football game–although he was a master of projecting youth and physical fitness he was in fact hiding a life-threatening disease. Kennedy was diagnosed in 1947 with Addison’s disease—an incurable disorder of the adrenal glands. Due to chronic anxiety and back pain he developed an addiction to painkillers, stimulants, and anti-anxiety medication—which was taboo in the 1960’s.
Ronald Reagan, (1981-1989) was the oldest man to seek the presidency and was considered by some to be medically unfit for the position. He struggled constantly with poor health. During his presidency he underwent the removal of prostate stones and prostate cancer, suffered with skin cancer and arthritis. Being shot in the chest in 1981 by John Hinckley, Jr. only added to his battles with staying healthy.
The health of the president is a concern to most American voters. If the 25th Amendment must be used to move the Vice-President into the Oval Office and to subsequently replace the vacant vice presidency, the running mate must also pass the healthy test. Two presidential nominees have experienced the backlash of running mates that have drawn negative attention—George McGovern and George W. Bush.
In 1972, George McGovern selected Thomas Eagleton as his number two. Eagleton was an up and coming Democratic US Senator from Missouri. Days after the Democratic convention, the Detroit Free Press ran the story that Eagleton had been hospitalized for depression on several occasions and undergone electro shock therapy. Americans in the middle of the Cold War era didn’t buy that candidacy and Richard Nixon kept his seat.
George W. Bush surrounded himself with many of his father’s advisors. George HW Bush maintained a close ally with Dick Cheney and he was tapped to be W’s running mate. Dick Cheney suffered many debilitating heart attacks and when the 2004 election rolled around, many Republican Party officials pressured GW to replace Cheney on the ballot.
As the 2016 Presidential election moves into the last weeks, all eyes will be on the candidates’ ability to handle the stress that goes with a marathon of campaigning—it’s just a dress rehearsal for life in the White House. Will health be as big of an issue in the days to come? Time will tell.