Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are 68 and 70 years old respectively. If elected, Hillary Clinton would be the third oldest president and Donald Trump would be the oldest, beating President Ronald Reagan by one year. In light of this, issues such as “presidential health” have been magnified in this general election. More recently, it is Hillary Clinton’s health that has been under scrutiny.
On September 11th of this year, Hillary Clinton gave a speech at a 9/11 memorial. After the speech, she walked to back to her van where she appeared to rely heavily on her bodyguards for assistance into the car. The media took pictures and the story was quickly circulated. News headlines appeared saying things like, “Hillary’s Health: Too Sick to be President?” and “How Sick is Hillary?” Later that day, the Clinton campaign released information from her doctor explaining that, “On Friday, during follow up evaluation of her prolonged cough, she was diagnosed with pneumonia. She was put on antibiotics, and advised to rest and modify her schedule. While at this morning’s event, she became overheated and dehydrated. I have just examined her and she is now re-hydrated and recovering nicely.”
As per usual, the reception to this information was partisan. Many people believed or did not believe the doctor’s statement due to their party alignment. There is a deeper question to this entire debacle though, and that is “Does a president’s health matter?” I want to look at a few historical examples and contrast them with the situation today.
One of the most famous historical examples of a Presidential with serious health problems is Franklin Delano Roosevelt. FDR suffered from an acute bout of polio when he was thirty-nine years old. This bout left him with permanent paralysis from the waist down. Although FDR never recovered from this paralysis, most people at the time were unaware of the extent and progression of his condition. It was a common belief at the time that FDR was getting better and that he could, in fact, walk. During the time, the media avoided referring to his condition out of respect for him. FDR served a total of 3 terms as President, bouncing us out of the Great Depression and winning WWII. During the beginning of his fourth term, FDR later died of a massive stroke due to the extreme duress he underwent during his twelve years as President. Later, Congress would pass the Twenty-Second Amendment in order to protect future presidents from the strain that FDR experienced.
Next, President Dwight Eisenhower is not a President that most people think of as “sick” or “ill.” On the contrary, nothing could have been tougher than this former WWII general. The public elected Eisenhower in a landslide election. They believed Eisenhower to be the driving force of liberty that could defeat the iron curtain of communism. However, President Eisenhower suffered a heart attack during his first term as president. Later, Eisenhower would suffer a stroke in his first year of his second term as President. He went on to serve uninterrupted and went down in history as one of the greatest Presidents we have ever had.
Lastly, I would like to talk about John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. JFK known for his cool, calm demeanor and saving the world from nuclear destruction, suffered from Addison’s disease. This disease is a rare endocrine disorder that caused an absence of steroid hormones. In addition, JFK suffered from hypothyroidism and severe back pain. JFK had to take a myriad of medications in order to counterbalance his day to day suffering. Some of this medicine included injected and ingested corticosteroids for his adrenal insufficiency, hormones, animal organ cells, steroids, vitamins, enzymes, and amphetamines. Though his ailments incapacitated him from time to time JFK is seen today as a great president who helped guide America narrowly out of a war with Russia. Similarly, Ronald Reagan, suffered from colon cancer during his second term as President. This required him to undergo serious surgery during which, two feet of his colon was removed.
In summation, I think the answer to the question “Does a president’s health matter?” is frankly, no. If our former presidents can serve well while undergoing heart attacks, strokes, and debilitating genetic disorders, a little pneumonia seems inconsequential.