The Health Issue in an Unhealthy Presidential Election Year

One of the crazier things about this crazy election year is that the major party candidates are, by historical standards, a couple of old geezers. Either Democratic nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton or Republican nominee Donald J. Trump will likely be the oldest person ever elected to a first term as President of the United States, which seems a crazy choice for such a traditionally youth-obsessed country to be choosing from. Yet it’s no surprise, given the country’s current craze for physical fitness, that the relative haleness of the candidates has become an issue.
Even the most reliably Democratic media seem to understand that Clinton looks to be at a disadvantage on the issue. Although a year younger than Trump, Clinton hews to a less-rigorous campaign schedule than her rival, has well-documented coughing fits that never seem to bedevil Trump’s steam-of-consciousness orations, been photographed being helped up a few stairs, and is clearly unready to face any of those amazonian “ultimate fighting” women in a cage match. The headlines that tout her “excellent health” are obliged to acknowledge a couple of paragraphs into the story that they refer to released the same medical reports that acknowledge she does suffer hyperthyroidism, and until a few years ago had transverse sinus thrombosis, and still takes a regimen of a blood thinner and the purportedly energy-boosting Vitamin B12, along with antihistamines for seasonal allergies, and that she’s pushing 70 and probably with all the usual complaints of that age. Those more impolite Trump partisans on the internet go so far as to post footage of an apparent bulge on the front of her ubiquitous pants suits that might be a medical device and a dark stain on the bottom that might also be embarrassing, and they speculate everything from Parkinson’s Disease to dementia to demon possession, all of which seem alarmingly plausible enough in this crazy election year.
Although year a older than Clinton, Trump does seem the more hale of the two. He routinely bounds unaided up the steps to the platforms of well-attended rallies to enthrall his audiences with those stream-of-consciousness orations, which are no doubt tiring, and afterwards he’s always seen rushing up the steps of those “Trump”-branded airplanes to get back to New York and sleep in his bed, and he’s got those famously long fingers, and you know what that means about longevity, wink-wink nudge-nudge, not to mention those naked photos of his third wife on the front page of ┬áThe New York Post, and we know he gets by on four hours of sleep because he’s “tweeting” insults at obscure cable talk show hosts in the early morning. No wonder that Trump himself has made a campaign issue of his seemingly better health, or that his supporters have run so very far with it.
In this crazy election year, though, the Republican nominee and his more fervid supporters always seem to run too far with an issue. That Clinton is not the picture of youthful health is plain enough, and should suffice for a political issue in such a youth-obsessed and physical fitness-crazed country, but any insistence that she’s too feeble to open a pickle jar only invites the ridicule of the late night comics. Late night comic Jimmy Kimmel, who’s actually rather bipartisan in his ridicule as far as what we call from the videos that occasionally pop up in the political news, made sport of it by having special guest Clinton actually open a pickle jar on his program. The crazed conspiracy-monger and Trump supporter Alex Jones tried to debunk the stunt on his much lower-rated and tin-foil-hat-wearing “Infowars” program, where Trump has been a frequent guest, insisting over seven full minutes that the “pickle can” had been pre-opened, giving Kimmel the opportunity for higher-rated ridicule.
Trump and his supporters have the same tendency to overstate his own health, of course, which has revived another round of ridicule. Those reports of Clinton’s hyperthyroidism and seasonal allergies and all that come from her relatively routine disclosure of her medical records, whereas the Republican nominee has only disclosed a year-old letter from a doctor who wrote “To whom my concern” that Trump’s health is “extraordinary” and his blood pressure is “astonishingly excellent,” with strength and stamina that is “extraordinary,” and that overall, “If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.” It got a few chuckles, even at a time when Trump’s candidacy seem a quixotic prank, that a doctor would assert in such Trumpian hyperbole that the old geezer was healthier than the famously athletic and much younger Washingtons and Jeffersons and Theodore Roosevelts and other presidents the doctor had never had a chance to examine, but with Trump giving them a chance to revisit that doctor’s note the ridicule has been much harsher. Throw in that the doctor crowed how all of Trump’s disease tests had proved “positive,” which every doctor knows is actually a negative outcome for the patient, and all that Trumpian prose suggests that it’s a lot like those obviously fake letters from Epstein’s mother on the old “Welcome Back, Kotter” sit-com that were signed by “Epstein’s mother.” The National Broadcasting Company’s news division took the opportunity to interview Trump’s enthusiastically testifying doctor, who turns out to be a gastroenterologist who looks the like the last of The Grateful Dead, and he explained that he wrote the note in five minutes under stress while awaiting a limousine and that perhaps “I think I kind of picked up his kind of language and then interpreted to my own.”
In this crazy election year such dueling embarrassments are likely to cancel one another out, and in any case we don’t much care. We’d much prefer the infamously obese William Howard Taft to either one of these nominees, or even the famously hale yet actually addled-by-Huntington’s disease and drug-addiction John F. Kennedy or the polio-crippled Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and although we don’t wish anyone an early death we’d like think that either candidate’s administration would be as short-lived and inconsequential as William Henry Harrison’s. If we were making a choice based solely on a candidate’s physical fitness we’d have to go with the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson, who has climbed the highest peaks on every continent and runs in grueling athletic contests despite his admitted until-recent marijuana use, and has scoffed at Trump’s physical fitness with the same foul language that Trump used when one of his Republican rivals went wobbly on torturing terror suspects. We’ve got some fundamental disagreements with him, too, though, no matter how buff and mellow he might be, so there’s still no telling how we’ll wind up voting in this crazy election year.
Perhaps we’d write in Jack LaLanne, but even he didn’t last forever.

— Bud Norman