FINNERTY: Politicians are wrongfully evaluated by their disease or illness
Opinions Column: Waxing Philosophical
Recent developments on the campaign trail have been nearly void of topics on policy, character evaluation and commentary on the state of things. Rather, the focus of the media has been on the notion of health and wellness. Not in the sense of the wellbeing of citizens or healthcare, but rather the health of our political candidates. During a 9/11 memorial service, it was reported by various news agencies that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton suffered some type of fatigue or illness-related fainting spell. Rumors spread of various diseases and conditions, including the infamous Martin Shkreli’s (popularly known as “Pharma Bro”) speculation about her having late-stage Parkinson’s Disease. In contrast, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump was recalled as having excellent blood pressure and praised for possibly losing up to 15 pounds on the campaign trail, according to a Fox News opinions piece. The question at hand, however, is not what state of health our hopeful nominees are in, but why do we care so much about their wellness?
Surely a nominee with a terminal illness would present problems to the election cycle (or would it?), but also, there is no real regulation preventing such a limitation. Various politicians have held office with a variety of illnesses, some even terminal. President John F. Kennedy, for example, was on multiple medications for a lifelong case of colitis and Addison’s Disease. At times he was prescribed 12 medications a day for multiple issues, as testified by Dr. Jeffrey Kelman. One could hardly forget the many images of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, sitting in his wheelchair due to a late diagnosis of polio. Despite these illnesses, both Roosevelt and Kennedy, for better or worse I add, changed America profoundly. So was health a factor?
Many on the left chide the admirers of President Ronald Reagan with accusations that he had Alzheimer’s while in office. Despite the various claims and counter arguments, Reagan is still revered by some, and his actions have lasted through the decades — again for better or worse? You decide.
Following the rich history of American officials and their health-issues, the question still stands: Why do we care? Should The Donald actually be paired with a case microphallus, does that change his character or ability? Not in the least, nor should anyone give more than a thought about it — why was this a thing in the first place? Anyway, does America lack the necessary faculties to disregard the soap opera that is biased news reporting?
Should Clinton collapse again due to ailment, would you care about her health more than her alleged allegiance to corporate enterprise? I certainly would not, as it holds no bearing on her capabilities and proposed agendas. Health, in my opinion, should always be a personal matter.
When we charge candidates with claims of illness and disease, are we not making a statement about beliefs in general towards anyone with that ailment? Are people with Parkinson’s and Addison’s inadequate for office or inferior to lead? If so, then why worry about policy and ideas or the democratic function? A perfect specimen, a sort of Rocky Horror, can lead to many misgivings about character and motives. Considering also that we are species like all others, that degrades over time, it seems foolish to look for matters of health in a world of ideas.
This discussion hardly touches the surface of our natural biases, toward the biological reality of what we are, or perhaps what we have. Throughout the lens of history, we look towards diagnosis when it comes to evil men — generally men, because there still exists that gender bias through the ages. Hitler suffered a microphallus and schizophrenia. Winston Churchill was said to have a bipolar disorder and depression. A plethora of Roman emperors are speculated to have been mentally ill. Why not just accept that these figures are a product of time and place, rather than some causal relation to wellness?
To justify the actions due to illness in retrospect is to ignore the true causal relation of action in the first place, the promulgation of ideas. Instead of searching medical records for abnormalities — whatever that entails — ask rather what the ideas and plans are: Look to previous action and factual occurrence. American media operates on a positive feedback loop. Therefore, the more dramatic we are about trivial and often unwarranted claims, like the microphallus or Parkinson’s, the more information about such things will be presented. Character and elements of the mind will always trump petty physical differences.
Jonathan Finnerty is a School of Arts Sciences senior majoring in classics and philosophy. His column, "Waxing Philosophical," runs on alternate Thursdays.
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