If Americans needed any more evidence that they have a compelling interest in detailed health disclosures by those who would be president, Hillary Clinton provided it on Sunday.
The former secretary of state and New York senator nearly collapsed at the 9/11 memorial service in lower Manhattan Sunday, avoiding a nasty tumble only with the help of Secret Service agents. Later in the day, her campaign revealed that she had been diagnosed with pneumonia two days before.
Even though the diagnosis, if accurate, would represent a likely transitory illness, it came at a bad time for Clinton. Not only is the presidential campaign hitting full throttle, but she has had to battle undocumented and often false allegations about her health.
The illness might not have had the same reverberations had she been more forthcoming about her health two days earlier and throughout the campaign. Although she has disclosed more information than her opponent, Republican nominee Donald Trump, what she has revealed is less than voters have a right to expect and, in fact, is in keeping with the secretive nature that led to her careless decision to use a private email server for official State Department business.
So far, both candidates have been sorely lacking in their willingness to discuss their health. Clinton produced only a two-page summary from her doctor last year; Trump only an absurd statement from his doctor that he “will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”
While Trump had previously promised “a full medical report,” the letter by Dr. Harold Bornstein, a gastroenterologist, was only 14 sentences long and, the doctor later acknowledged, was dashed off in five minutes. Tuesday morning, Trump said he has taken health tests and will be releasing “specific numbers” later this week. Whether they will amount to adequate disclosure remains to be seen, but it’s fair to say that a person could have fine cholesterol numbers and still have serious health issues.
Health information also requires thoughtful assessment by voters. No one expects a president never to be sick. The relevant question is about a candidate’s overall health, including any chronic conditions and history of serious ailments.
The question for voters today is about the nature of Clinton’s pneumonia. Her doctor, Lisa R. Bardack, said the candidate was “rehydrated and recovering nicely.” An independent expert, American Lung Association scientific adviser Norman H. Edelman, told the Washington Post, “At this point, there is no reason to believe that Secretary Clinton will be disabled” by pneumonia, which can be mild or severe.
Mild forms are not uncommon and usually end in full recovery. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 2 million Americans contract a mild form of pneumonia annually. “It’s common. It occurs at all ages,” Edelman told the Post. “It occurs in perfectly healthy people as well as those who are sick.”
For now, voters have to trust that Clinton and her doctor are offering a complete picture of this health issue. If they are not, it will become obvious. More than that, though, the issue underscores the absolute need for presidential candidates to release a full and honest overview of the state of their health.
That doesn’t mean candidates won’t get sick during or after the campaign, but it avoids the innuendo that has characterized this election season and at least some of the questions that have arisen with Clinton’s stumble.