image: Hillary Clinton campaigning in North Carolina, October 2016
For both Presidential candidates during this election cycle, the question of their personal health has become an important and much-discussed issue. For weeks, the Trump campaign raised questions about Hillary Clinton’s health, which she flatly denied—until she was taken to the hospital with pneumonia.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump’s personal physician released an oddly-written note extolling the immaculate health of the GOP candidate and in the process calling into question the veracity of both the doctor and the letter. After their first debate together, the topics of how Hillary walked onstage a bit slowly and the number of times Trump sniffed throughout the evening, were discussed almost as much as the actual issues.Why is everyone so concerned about this? Why do we care so much about the health status of our Presidential candidates? There are several reasons.
The Presidency Takes Its Toll
To say that being President is a difficult and stressful job is an understatement. Just how hard it is, is something the average citizen takes for granted, until we look at pictures of former presidents at the beginning and end of their terms.
The amount of time that shows in their faces appears to be far more than the four or eight years they’ve held office. For someone to take on the Presidency, they must necessarily be as healthy and as strong as possible, to ensure that they can meet the physically taxing demands of the job.
It’s true that we’ve had Presidents who weren’t in the best of health. Most notable is Frankly D. Roosevelt. He suffered from polio and was in a wheelchair, but still managed to serve four terms in the oval office—more than anyone else.
However, it’s important to remember that his health was steadily declining during that entire time, and in fact, he never finished his final term, dying just a few months after it began. The Presidency took its toll on him perhaps more than anyone before or since, and it eventually led to his death.
The Candidates and Their Health
In light of what happened to Franklin Roosevelt, and what happens to every President over time, it’s easy to see why a candidate’s health is considered so important during an election. But in this Presidential race in particular, the issue seems to be going far beyond one of mere concern. In fact, any symptom of ill health is seemingly now being considered a sign of overall weakness.
If the stress of the campaign trail is so great that it gives Hillary Clinton pneumonia, then how can she be trusted to remain healthy enough to do her job when the weight of the free world is on her shoulders? If the bill of health from Donald Trump’s physician is falsified or exaggerated, then could it be that he is, in fact, hiding some serious medical issue of his own?
If a leader’s health is called into question, then the next logical issue is whether or not they’re even fit for office. Are we really electing the candidate, or will their respective Vice Presidents eventually be forced to take their place? These questions may seem extreme, but they’re being brought up on both sides, in response to the questions about each of the candidates’ health.
In a race as fierce as this one has been, it’s only natural that people in each camp look for any sign of weakness they can find in the opposing candidate and pounce on it. Donald Trump’s sniffing through the debate doesn’t mean that he’s getting sick, or that he was on drugs. Even pneumonia isn’t automatically a deal breaker, health-wise.Many people get it, and it’s perfectly treatable—and certainly not as debilitating as polio.
The health status of our presidential candidates is definitely an issue worthy of some concern. But to make it the focal point of the campaign, rather than the actual issues at stake, is a bit shortsighted. A few minor setbacks aren’t going to prevent either candidate from fulfilling their duties, if elected. We all get sick now and then.