Politics & Policy

Of Course Hillary’s Health Is Relevant

(Reuters photo: Jim Young)
Why shouldn't she face the same scrutiny as every other presidential nominee?

Of course Hillary Rodham Clinton’s health is a legitimate issue for the 2016 election.

So is Donald Trump’s. So is Gary Johnson’s. So is that of any presidential candidate.

Mrs. Clinton’s media allies (which is to say, the media, more or less) are circling the wagons on this issue, and it is curious.

The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza made an unpersuasive attempt to explain why it was legitimate to treat John McCain’s health as a campaign issue in 2008 but illegitimate to do the same with Herself in 2016. McCain, he points out, would have been 72 years old at the time of his election, the oldest person ever elected to the office; Herself will, if elected in November, be a sprightly . . . 69 years of age. McCain bore the scars of Vietnam and Arizona: He was grievously wounded — and tortured — by the Vietnamese, and he suffers from a recurring melanoma, which necessitates occasional trips to the doctor to have a patch of dodgy skin removed. Skin cancer is no joke, but millions of Americans live with melanoma of the sort McCain has with very little effect on their lives other than inconvenience.

Mrs. Clinton, in spite of her probably fictitious attempt to join the military, was never a prisoner of war, nor does she, so far as any record made public shows, suffer from cancer or any other chronic condition.

Still, she is not exactly the picture of health. As Cillizza notes, she suffered a concussion as a result of an unfortunate tendency to fall down, purportedly stemming from an upset stomach. There is at least one thing that leaps to mind that causes both digestive revolt and falling on one’s ass, and it is whispered that Mrs. Clinton drinks immoderately, though there is no evidence that this is in fact the case. She sometimes requires a helper step to get into the SUVs that whisk her hither and yon in her pursuit of the presidency.

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Mrs. Clinton is also remarkably forgetful: During a midsummer interview with FBI agents investigating her furtive and illegal e-mail practices, Mrs. Clinton used the words “I cannot recall” or similar formulations more than 40 times. Doctor Johnson once remarked that the prospect of being hanged “concentrates the mind wonderfully,” and perhaps it is the case that the prospect of being brought up on federal charges related to the handling of classified material has the opposite effect, producing a kind of special-purpose dementia.

Mrs. Clinton of course inspires the conspiracy kooks, an effect that is very much amplified by the fact that her opponent in 2016 is a big-league conspiracy kook leading a team of minor-league conspiracy kooks. Louis Brandeis was absolutely correct about sunlight’s being the best disinfectant, but Mrs. Clinton is a creature of the shade. Given her history of rampant, craven, deep, broad, sustained, overarching, continuous, relentless dishonesty about practically every aspect of her personal and public lives, is it really so implausible that she’d lie about her health? No. She’d lie about her health even if there were nothing to lie about, just to keep in practice.

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Of course reporters and her political opponents should dig into questions related to Mrs. Clinton’s health. We can be sure that her research staff was not in the least bit assuaged by that hugely entertaining letter from Donald Trump’s personal physician, which stopped just short of declaring kryptonite the candidate’s only weakness.

Gary Johnson, like the man Hillary Clinton was not named for, has climbed Mount Everest (there’s getting high, and then there’s getting high) and is in remarkable condition for a 63-year-old man.

On the other hand, Winston Churchill drank Pol Roger like it was his job, lit up a hell of a lot more blunts on the average day than Gary Johnson does, and maintained a diet that would have horrified Michelle Obama, but he was one of the greatest leaders in modern history — and lived to be 90 years old.

If the president of the United States of America were limited to his proper role — chief executive of the federal bureaucracies and commander in chief in times of war — then we might not worry too much about his health. Indeed, if ever we are able to reinvigorate this republic and return its public and private spheres to their proper roles and proportions, that will be one of the ways we know we’ve succeeded: “Don’t worry if President Smith dies in office; we’ll just get another one.”

#related#But we do not have that kind of presidency. Instead, we have made the president into a kind of Akhenaten, part monarch, part object of veneration in the national cult. Barack Obama has repeatedly declared himself to be the instrument — and the vessel — of capital-H History. Mrs. Clinton speaks in approximately the same way about herself. Donald Trump? “I alone.” If the presidential inauguration is to be a transubstantiation, then we ought to inquire as to what sort of body we are being nationally incorporated into. Personally, I find the prospect revolting, but that is where we are.

Is Mrs. Clinton as sickly as some say? Or is she just a dotty old bat of the ordinary sort? We can be absolutely sure that we will not get the truth of it from Mrs. Clinton, and we can be reasonably sure that we will not get the truth of it from reporters and editors who have renounced all curiosity on the question.

Mrs. Clinton’s health is a legitimate issue, even if it offends the tender sensibilities of the Washington Post.

— Kevin D. Williamson is National Review’s roving correspondent.

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