Yesterday, Hillary Clinton’s doctor revealed that she had been diagnosed with pneumonia on the previous Friday, leading to speculation that she may have to drop out of the race.
There are many on the side of Republican nominee Donald Trump who say that Clinton’s illness has proved that she is not fit to serve as President, and that she should therefore withdraw herself from consideration. However, an illness such as this should not preclude a candidate from consideration in a Presidential race.
There is a long history of ill health amongst individuals serving as President of the United States, and so it should not really be seen as such a problem.
Some of the most celebrated individuals to have served as President suffered from serious health problems during their time in office. Woodrow Wilson suffered a serious stroke whilst in office, and became permanently paralysed on his left side. He continued to run the country whilst keeping his condition a secret from his Cabinet and the general public. John F. Kennedy was diagnosed with Addison’s Disease in 1947, which caused him to suffer from an array of health problems, fourteen years before becoming President. He kept this secret from the electorate whilst projecting an image of youth and vitality during the campaign. And, perhaps most importantly for the Republicans calling on Clinton to drop out, Ronald Reagan, who became the eldest first term President in 1981, was also plagued by an array of serious health problems during his Presidency. This included having to relinquish Presidential power to the Vice-President for a period of eight hours during 1985 whilst he underwent surgery to remove cancerous tissue from his colon. The suitability of these individuals wasn’t questioned in the same way as Hillary Clinton’s is being today.
As long as a candidate can demonstrate the skills and experience to serve as President (and we know that Hillary Clinton certainly can) then their health shouldn’t be a significant problem, and therefore Hillary Clinton should not be perceived negatively as a result of being diagnosed with pneumonia.
On the contrary, she should be applauded for continuing with her heavy schedule despite the onset of illness.
However, although Clinton’s pneumonia should not preclude her from becoming the President, it has handed Donald Trump a significant opportunity. The problem is not the illness itself, but rather the way in which it was handled by the Clinton campaign.
Although Clinton was diagnosed with pneumonia on Friday, this wasn’t revealed by the campaign until Sunday. Prior to this revelation, aides stated that the episode which saw Clinton collapse at the 9/11 commemoration in New York was simply a case of “overheating”.
Now for most candidates, this shouldn’t be a particularly big deal. Although the campaign can be accused of a lack of transparency, candidates on the Presidential campaign trail have historically become ill because of the hectic schedule and have not been expected to disclose their illnesses.
However, the problem for Hillary is that she is already seen to be lacking in honesty. Polling by numerous organisations has suggested that the vast majority of the American electorate do not believe that she is honest and trustworthy. For there to be another instance which allows this accusation to be levelled against her is the last thing that the campaign needs.
This incident only serves to remind the electorate of the Clinton family’s reputation for dishonesty. A reputation perhaps unfairly gained but, in the context of a Presidential campaign, what is fair or unfair doesn’t really come into it. This incident will only serve to remind the electorate of the problems with Clinton’s emails, or of the accusations levelled against her husband during his time as President.
It would be surprising for this incident not to further hit Clinton’s poll numbers, and with only a couple of months until the election, this is the last thing she needs.
If Clinton is to be sure to win this election then she needs to end her lack of openness, described by former Obama strategist David Axelrod as, “an unhealthy penchant for privacy that repeatedly creates unnecessary problems.” Remember that prior to Thursday, the Clinton campaign hadn’t held a proper press conference for around nine months. This lack of transparency hasn’t gone down too well with the press, and is also likely to play into Trump’s hands. Over the course of the campaign Trump has criticised Clinton for looking as though she lacks energy, and this incident is simply going to provide him with another opportunity to do the same.
In any democracy around the world, the electorate do not generally take kindly to having the wool pulled over their eyes. When you take into account the fact that the Clinton campaign already has a reputation for lacking transparency, then failing to disclose the extent of her illness could be an error of great magnitude.
Ultimately, although the illness itself should in no way prevent Hillary Clinton from becoming President, the campaign’s handling of the issue has been poor. Particularly at this late stage in the campaign.
This definitely gives Trump the chance to cash in and gain the momentum once again.
If Clinton is serious about winning the Presidency, then the errors needs to stop. She has had ample opportunity to put the Presidential race to bed, but little slip-ups keep stopping her in her tracks.
If she is going to defeat Trump in November then these errors need to stop, and she needs to open her campaign up to more press scrutiny in order to dispel the views of those who call her dishonest. If she fails to do this, who knows what will happen come November, what is certain though, is that Trump will have the edge.