Our Archaic Obsession With Candidates' Health Puts Us Back Centuries

With great fanfare and also a bunch of back-and-forth, Donald Trump released his health records Thursday — at least, a portion of them. They showed that, well, aside from being slightly overweight, Donald Trump is basically healthy. The results, which were shared with Dr. Mehmet Oz on his The Dr. Oz Show, were part of a week-long political freak-out about the physical health of the two main candidates, making it seemingly the primary issue of the campaign. Really, though, it’s just been one more veiled sexist attack on America’s first female major party nominee for president.

On Sunday, rumor-mongering about the health of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was seemingly given credence when the former Secretary of State was caught on film wobbly and requiring assistance as she got into her Secret Service vehicle. The Clinton campaign announced that the candidate had been diagnosed with pneumonia, and Clinton later said that she didn’t disclose it earlier because she “didn't think it was going to be that big a deal.” While experts have verified that it is, indeed, NBD medically, the whole episode mixed unpleasantly with existing beliefs about what Democratic strategist David Axelrod called Clinton’s “penchant for privacy” and prompted both campaigns to release further medical records to prove the fitness of their candidate.

The question of whether a candidate’s health is relevant to their presidential abilities is a tricky one. On the one hand, some of our greatest presidents have been afflicted by various illnesses and medical conditions, many of which were not disclosed to the public. On the other hand, there is uncertainty as to whether some of the more debilitating illnesses kept those presidents from performing their duties.

The problem is that the current conversation we’re having about presidential health doesn’t find its roots in actual competence or even in transparency — I believe it goes back much farther to a time when political leaders were expected to physically ride into battle at the front of their armies and thrust longswords deep into the hearts of our enemies. Or, as MTV News/New York Times reporter Ana Marie Cox has bottom-lined it, referring to Trump’s comments that Clinton “doesn’t have the strength or stamina to make America great again:” “BY ‘STRENGTH AND STAMINA’ HE MEANS ‘PENIS.’”

To be perfectly frank, I’m having trouble envisioning exactly what kind of voter who would otherwise support Clinton, would learn about her pneumonia and switch their allegiance to Trump. And while there are some in the media who are trying to put Clinton’s illness into the appropriate medical context, the fact that there are few who are calling it out as a misogynist non-sequitur is disappointing.

But for all of our sakes, I hope she gets better soon, not so she can appear healthy on the campaign trail, but so she can finish the job of defeating Trump.