The uncertainty over Hilary Clinton’s health has the media and others playing doctor and barking out questions. How bad is her pneumonia? When did she find out she had it and why didn’t she inform the public immediately?
In our age of instant communication, privacy is virtually impossible for a presidential candidate. Thus it was probably a mistake for Clinton and her handlers to attempt to keep the illness under wraps. But I can’t help thinking that these kinds of intrusions that politicians must subject themselves to in 2016 would have meant that one of America’s greatest leaders would have never become President much less been re-elected three times.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared to the world in his inaugural address to U.S. citizens in 1933, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Roosevelt spent his life conquering fear. He authored the “New Deal,” a game-changing social policy that helped the world emerge from the clutches of the great depression and slashed the U.S. unemployment rate from 25% to 2%. FDR pioneered programs like social security that we take for granted today. He guided the U.S. through World War II. Without his leadership, the Nazis and their allies may have won.
And yet Roosevelt was paralyzed from the waist down after being diagnosed with polio while vacationing at the family’s summer home in New Brunswick at the age of 39. During his time in office, he and his aides went to great lengths to downplay his physical limitations. News photographers were warned not to take pictures that would show the extent of his disability. Those who defied the edict would sometimes have their film seized by secret service agents.
In the today’s social media environment, there would be no way that FDR could have disguised his illness. The speculation about his health and the efforts of political enemies to raise doubts about his fitness for office may have killed his candidacy which would have deprived the U.S. and the rest of the world of a great leader.
So how much do we really need to know about a candidate’s health?
Canada has laws in place to protect employees from discrimination and to ensure that those who have had a bout of cancer or been treated for depression are not shut out of the job market. The privacy of our health records are protected by law.
Are politicians an exception? Do we need to know that they’re full of youthful vigour and up to the rigours of the 24/7 demands of public office?
The cigar chomping Winston Churchill was a senior citizen when he led the fight against Hitler between 1939 and 1945. He was in his mid seventies when elected Prime Minister in 1951 and presided over a cabinet meeting the day after he suffered his second stroke in 1953. None of his ministers were aware of what had happened.
These examples should be kept in mind as the video of Hilary Clinton collapsing while getting into black van is replayed over and over again on news broadcasts and shared on social media. Doctors and pundits can do their best to diagnose a person’s physical health. Strength of character may be harder to measure but I believe it is far more important in assessing a candidate’s fitness for office.