The Corner

Politics & Policy

Bill Clinton, 1996: ‘The Public Has a Right to Know the Condition of the President’s Health.’

In 2015, Hillary Clinton’s campaign produced a two-page letter from her doctor, Lisa Bardack, declaring “she is in excellent physical condition” and suffers from “hypothyroidism, seasonal allergies and takes blood thinners as a precaution against clots.”

Look back to October 15, 1992, when Bill Clinton’s campaign, after months of pressure from the media, finally gave a detailed health history of the candidate. The history revealed a few embarrassing details here and there, but nothing indicating he couldn’t handle the physical pressures of the office:

Clinton’s medical history, as related in letters from four physicians in Little Rock, includes allergies, a left knee ligament strain in 1984, hemorrhoids that same year, and what was described as a “mild hearing loss.” A stress test a year ago showed no heart problems, according to Andrew G. Kumpuris, a cardiologist.

Though the reports did not mention the subject, Betsey Wright, a Clinton aide, said the candidate has no history of psychiatric or emotional illness.

Caffeine is partly responsible for producing gastric acid, similar to heartburn, which inflamed his larynx and harmed his vocal cords. He has been sleeping on a wedge to elevate his head during the night to prevent the gastric juices from rising and to keep his head less congested. His congestion is sometimes so severe, wrote Kelsy J. Caplinger of the Little Rock Allergy Clinic, that it sometimes prevents him from running because he can’t breathe.

“His hoarseness is related to a combination of nasal allergies, mild esophageal reflux (the gastric juices rising to the esophagus) and especially overuse of his voice,” wrote James Y. Suen, his otolaryngologist in Little Rock. “There has been no evidence of any tumors or malignancies.”

With a recommended low-fat diet and increase in exercise, Clinton also has lowered his cholesterol level to 184, down from 227 a year ago. Most doctors recommend that cholesterol levels stay below 200.

Clinton, who stands 6 feet 2 1/2 inches tall, weighed 226 pounds a year ago and bulked up to more than 240 during the high-stress primary season earlier this year. He is now down to 215.

Bill Clinton gave his doctors permission to discuss his health records with the media. Three of his four doctors agreed to interviews with the New York Times.

Surely Bill Clinton didn’t enjoy having his hemorrhoids and weight fluctuation discussed in the media, but it was one day of chuckling, and then it pretty much put the issue of his health to bed. It worked for him. Hillary Clinton’s campaign does not appear likely to give anything beyond the letter from Bardack.

Why is Hillary Clinton unwilling to meet the standard of disclosure that Bill Clinton set?

You may recall that one of Bill Clinton’s rivals in the primary that year was Senator Paul Tsongas. God rest his soul, but Tsongas and his doctors lied through their teeth:

When Tsongas ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination the 1992 presidential campaign, he made an issue of his survival from a form of cancer known as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. But Tsongas and his doctors at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Ronald W. Takvorian and George P. Canellos, repeatedly said he had been cancer-free when he had not. In so doing, they implied that the cancer was cured when indeed it was not curable.

Tsongas died in 1997. If he had been nominated and elected, he would not have completed his term. After 1993, he fought lymphoma again, spent much of the next four years in hospitals, eventually had an operation to deal with liver and heart problems that were complications of his cancer therapy. The surgery worked, but he passed away in the hospital… from pneumonia.

In 1996, after Bob Dole released all of his health records and challenged the president to do the same, the White House released 11 pages of letters from doctors summarizing laboratory tests. President Clinton sat down for a lengthy interview with Lawrence Altman of the New York Times, who was also a medical doctor.

 Bill Clinton told Altman he didn’t think of the interview as an invasion of privacy. “The public has a right to know the condition of the president’s health.”

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