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Monday, September 12, 2016

The health issue

by digby

I wrote about Clinton's "health" issue for Salon this morning:

After 24 hours of fulminating over Friday night's commentary from Hillary Clinton about "baskets of deplorables" and Donald Trump's stated willingness to start a war if someone flips an American the bird, everyone seemed more than ready for a day of national unity to commemorate 9/11. Then Clinton had a fainting spell and all hell broke loose.

The press went into full blown breaking news mode and when tape emerged of Clinton wobbling and appearing to faint as she got into her car the cable networks and journalists on social media went with wall to wall with breathless medical speculation. They showed the video in slow motion over and over again like it was an outtake from the Zapruder film scene in Oliver Stone's JFK  ("back and to the left, back and to the left.") She emerged from her daughters home smiling and waving a few hours later (prompting hilarious right wing conspiracy theories that it must have been a body double.) But when her doctor released a statement saying she had been diagnosed with pneumonia on Friday the press became hysterical.

At that moment they could have chosen to analyse Clinton's pressing on with the campaign in spite of having pneumonia as an indication of her grit and dedication to the campaign. And in fairness some did. For instance, contrary to widely assumed rumor that she'd been taking it easy all month, Jeff Zeleny of CNN said that he'd covered five presidential campaign and had never seen a more brutal schedule than Clinton's. Or the media could have taken Clinton's doctor at her word that she is being treated and will recover nicely. Instead they settled on their tedious narrative of righteous indignation about Clinton's supposed pathological secretiveness in failing to inform them of her diagnosis the minute she got it. It's all about them.

They also know very well that this febrile coverage plays into an ongoing theme of the presidential campaign:  Donald Trump's claim that Hillary Clinton doesn't have "the strength or the stamina" to be president. On one level, it's a simple sexist charge against a woman candidate from a man who believes that all of life is a game of primitive dominance. But it's more than that.  Trump made the same charge against Jeb Bush during the primaries, in that case the taunt of a schoolyard bully.

And there has been yet another layer to his "strength and stamina" charge in recent weeks, leveled first by surrogates like Alex Jones, Breitbart and Drudge and taken up recently by the campaign itself, which implied that Clinton was suffering from brain damage and possibly Parkinsons disease. I wrote about this elaborate conspiracy theory a couple of weeks ago here on Salon.

Despite it being a right wing smear, "the health issue" worked its way into the mainstream press leading to coverage of a couple of coughing fits as if they were obvious signs that she's on death's door and today's events as if they show something is seriously wrong. (How pneumonia relates to the brain damage has yet to be explained.) But the truth is that coughs and throat problems are probably the most common problem a politician has. And when one personally hugs, shakes hands and gets breathed on by thousands of people in a week, getting pneumonia isn't really all that surprising either. It's obvious that if the Drudge smear wasn't in full bloom, this story would have been covered differently. Instead, unable to resist the lure of the sexy tabloid lede, Politico just let it all hang out: Clinton scare shakes up the race Physical weakness caught on camera turns health conspiracy into a legitimate campaign concern.

The fact is that politicians get sick. Indeed,  presidents get sick. George W. Bush fainted in the white house just sitting on a couch eating pretzels. His father famously caught the flu while he was travelling, grew faint and vomited on the Prime Minister of Japan's lap. Ronald Reagan was shot and had cancerous polyps removed from his colon while in office. Lyndon Johnson had gall bladder surgery and proudly showed his scar to the press corps. President Eisenhower had a heart attack and emergency surgery for a bowel obstruction. There's no need to reiterate all of Franklin Roosevelt's health problems, but it's pretty clear that the right wing and the press today would find him unfit for office.

And the list of macho men who've fainted in public is a lot longer than you might think. This is just a sample:

General Petraeus faints at congressional hearing.
Major General James Martin fainting at a press conference back in February
Attorney General Michael Mukasy  fainting in the middle of a speech in 2008.
 GE CEO Jim Campbell at a Joe Biden speech in 2010.
Silvio Berlosconi, Italy's prime minister at the time, collapsing in 2006.
Bill Daley passing out at his Commerce Secretary appointment ceremony in 1996
A 23 year old soccer player collapsing during a live interview
A soldier fainting waiting for dignitaries to arrive

To put it simply, if you discard the inane right wing conspiracy theories about Clinton's alleged brain damage and Parkinsons disease, you'll realize that mundane ailments like coughing, fainting, pneumonia, flu etc are common among politicians and other leaders because they're common among humans. 

Despite some truly ridiculous speculation from members of the press this is unlikely to be more than a slight blip on the campaign. It's pneumonia not a brain tumor and she will recover. But it's almost sure that the drumbeat for her to release her full medical records for the press to paw through for juicy tidbits is going to get louder and she'll undoubtedly end up complying. Medical privacy is not allowed for presidential candidates.

Well, unless they are named Donald Trump. While everyone is breathlessly speculating about what Clinton is hiding in her records you'd think the press would be equally curious as to why a 70 year old billionaire's doctor is a cartoon character who wrote the most ridiculous letter attesting to a presidential candidates fitness in American history. Does he not have a real doctor? Will the hysteria this week-end force the media to ask that question at long last? It's actually much more suspicious than Clinton's  mundane fainting spell and bout with pneumonia.