As has now been disclosed, Secretary Clinton was diagnosed with pneumonia on Friday, September 9, according to the statement by her physician, Dr. Lisa Bardack. Her campaign revealed the diagnosis on Sunday, September 11–five hours after a videotape aired her condition.
Setting aside duplicity, spin and careerism, from the perspective of the body politic there are several genuine concerns.
First, for the record–I am still a human being with a heart, and I wish her a speedy and full recovery, as I would anyone. Notwithstanding the poisonous rhetoric around both Clinton and Trump, I wish them good health. To do otherwise would be fascistic.
Also for the record, ‘anyone’ includes prison inmates. Do you wonder how the for-profit private prisons now infesting the United States are treating their prisoners who come down with pneumonia? Linked here is one answer. Here is another.
1. One central concern is Clinton’s untruthfulness. The health of a U.S. chief executive is a legitimate topic for public discourse. Clinton had a coughing fit on camera on September 5 (Labor Day), and made a junior-high joke about being allergic to Trump. According to her physician’s statement, she had a “follow up evaluation of her prolonged cough” on September 9 and was then diagnosed with pneumonia. Pneumonia is a serious illness (see below), regrettably too common in the U.S.
Following the coughing spell in Cleveland, Ohio, Clinton dismissed health questions as “conspiracy theories.” Coincidentally, the trip to Cleveland was the first aboard her new campaign plane, on which–as numerous news outlets have reported–Clinton has also recently begun having in-flight conversations with reporters. During the chats, she made light of her cough, attributing it to “seasonal allergies” and telling reporters that she was taking antihistamines.
Following the September 9 diagnosis, instead of just disclosing through staff that she had pneumonia and would be scaling back campaign activities ‘for a few days’, or some such statement, Clinton appeared in several public events without mentioning the diagnosis. She left the September 11 memorial so abruptly that the press was not aware of her departure. The campaign kept the development from the press for some ninety minutes. Her spokesman then exaggerated the time she had spent at the ceremony. The campaign attributed her leaving early to her being “overheated” as well as “dehydrated,” while temperatures in New York City on that partly cloudy morning hovered in the 80s. Only after the video surfaced did the Clinton campaign disclose the September 9 diagnosis, without specifics as to whether she had had a chest X-ray or how long she had had the pneumonia. Only after the disclosure of the diagnosis have further reports surfaced that several people in Clinton’s New York office had pneumonia last month, some of whom ended up in the emergency room.
Last night (9/12), CNN’s Anderson Cooper interviewed Secretary Clinton, who phoned in. To polite but probing questions as to why she continued campaigning with pneumonia, Clinton answered that she was determined to be at the 9-11 ceremony. She said again how hot and “muggy” it was in New York. She also said, twice, that her publicly released medical records are equivalent to those released by Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Asked why she didn’t just reveal the pneumonia, she said with a warm chuckle that “I just didn’t think it was going to be that big a deal.” This cringe-worthy claim is already much quoted–and is typical of the way Clinton herself keeps giving rise to speculations of must-be-the-blood-thinner. Not only did cable commentators dismiss the assertion (immediately), it is contradicted by reports that Clinton hid the pneumonia from most of her own team.
Following the news uproar, both Clinton and Trump have said that they will release fuller medical records. When Cooper asked Clinton last night whether “details about your medical history” would be released, however, Clinton did not answer the question directly. She also ducked mention of her health problems in 2012. Adding to the other irritants, Clinton brought up her 2012 health problems in responding to FBI inquiries, to explain some lack of recollection and her use of the private email server while she was working from home.
Side note: the best article on Secretary Clinton’s health problems that I have seen so far is this by Todd Frankel.
Condensing three further items, saving two more
–Looking at the length of concern #1, above, I’m realizing that other concerns have to be edited for length. So, shortening the following–
2. That Clinton has media figures openly shilling for her is an ongoing concern. When a legitimate issue flares up on the campaign trail, it gets worse. This item is painful, and I’m going to keep it short. Google “Clinton” “health” “conspiracy,” and millions of results include articles that–at best–dismiss any mention of Secretary Clinton’s health as ‘conspiracy theory’. NBC and MSNBC in particular are ludicrous. NBC has tried gamely to smooth things over for Clinton. Rachel Maddow and Chris Matthews have ‘conspiracy theory’ on the brain. Maddow has not hesitated to ‘debunk’ every mention of Clinton’s health as a tinfoil-hat production.
Some of the spin continues even now that the pneumonia has been disclosed. The newest line is that pneumonia is ‘not serious’. I myself am startled by that one (see #4, below). Naturally, Clinton surrogates would try this one, but it is also being pushed by some commentators and a few reporters.
Another line is that Clinton has “walking pneumonia”–which is not actually pneumonia, nor is it a medical diagnosis or a medical term. No, she doesn’t. She has real pneumonia.
Then there’s the Clinton “stumble.” The video clip shows Secretary Clinton unable to stand or walk on her own. She leans on a post and on the arm of an aide. Then she is lifted into the van as she sinks, her feet dragging. This is not a “stumble.”
“Penchant for privacy”? More accurately, Secretary Clinton seems to feel that she must always have things other people never have. The president of the United States gave up his Blackberry. But Secretary Clinton had her own private communications technology installed in-home. (I do not recall whether State was billed for it, or if so, how much.) Other candidates have taken time off during campaigns, for health reasons, and have said so openly. But she seems to feel uniquely entitled to keep her health issues off the grid, even if it means dissembling. This is not a “penchant for privacy.” It is a penchant for tasteless entitlement. (Sorry, but no, I don’t understand it. Neither does anyone else who grew up on Jane Eyre and Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott and Mark Twain, Shakespeare and Dickens.)
3. Her aides, or her team, do not serve her to handle issues appropriately. Yes, I know; it is unlikely that she allows them to speak frankly. But it is still a concern that Clinton aides won’t, or can’t, tell her the right thing to do. They wouldn’t, or couldn’t, persuade her that openness about the pneumonia diagnosis would be best. Maybe they didn’t realize it themselves; maybe they knew better but couldn’t speak; either way, they are presumably her own personnel choices. This concern is not just a matter of campaign gamesmanship (although if you compare Clinton’s campaign to Barack Obama’s in either 2008 or 2012, you have to cringe a little). The graver issue is that if she has an entourage of this sort when she’s just a candidate, if her people are this way when she is a mere candidate, what chance is there that as president she would appoint people who would counsel her or guide her adequately?
4. Health is a genuine concern. Regardless of political attacks and political defenses, the real concern is the candidate’s actual health. Setting aside the pneumonia for the moment, Secretary Clinton has had a serious concussion that by her own admission gave her double vision and (talking to the FBI) caused some loss of memory. According to her husband in the past couple of days, she has a history of dizzy spells and dehydration. Then there is the blood thinner–a drastically strong medication, and I have seen its effects on people near me.
This is not to imply that everyone on blood thinners is mentally impaired. An old friend of mine takes a blood thinner, with no loss of mental acuity whatever. But then she works out strenuously with a trainer; she watches her food intake–not ‘dieting’, but sidestepping alcohol and sweets in favor of vegetables and proteins; and she paces herself at work, in a high-powered and cerebral job with much responsibility. Does any of this sound like Secretary Clinton? Clinton’s campaign lifestyle is like a World War II-era pamphlet on what not to do–fast pace, grueling schedule, too little exercise and too much food, and rich on-the-road food at that. Anyone who has to travel a lot, or anyone who has to take several trips back-to-back, knows the pull of out-of-town food and scheduling.
Without saying that Secretary Clinton’s ill health is dire, pneumonia is still ill health. Arguing otherwise is ludicrous, and a disservice to the public. I had pneumonia myself, last winter, combined with bronchitis, as I have written elsewhere. I knew about the bronchitis (four severe bouts), did not know about the pneumonia, finally got a chest X-ray on the fourth trip to the clinic–got the diagnosis of “lung infection”–and landed in the hospital. Meanwhile, of course, I had been going to work. Full recovery took me a few months.
So far as I know, I did not infect anyone. However, I caught my bronchitis and pneumonia from a nice guy I ride a shuttle bus with–finding this out when he casually mentioned that he had come down with both, too, a few weeks before I did.
Apparently other people are as unacquainted with pneumonia as I was. A UK periodical just ran a piece posing the questions ‘What is pneumonia?’ and ‘What are the symptoms?’ Answer: pneumonia is a lung infection. Symptoms include coughing, physical weakness, tiredness, and death (as one of my doctors pointed out). The risk of pneumonia is one reason why elderly patients are in danger if they stay in the hospital too long. (In medical argot, these are “Complications after surgery” — cf. “contractions in childbirth,” or don’t-get-me-started.)
A few commentators have already proposed that presidential candidates should be compelled by rule to disclose their medical records. I concur. And the rule should be that declared candidates have to provide their medical records before nomination.