What We Need to Know About the President’s Health

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Hillary Clinton’s health has come under close scrutiny in the past few days, and I wrote yesterday about how a candidate’s health issues could conceivably affect his or her ability to serve as President. If elected, Hillary Clinton would be the second oldest person ever elected President, just shy of Ronald Reagan’s record. If elected, Donald Trump would be the oldest person ever elected President. The pairing of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is the oldest pairing of two major party candidates in our nation’s history. Thus, their health is, in the mind’s of most Americans, an important issue.

Presidents have often served with health issues. FDR, JFK, and Lincoln all suffered from some rather serious health issues, none of which prevented their effective leadership. Eisenhower suffered a serious heart attack in 1955, but that did not prevent his re-election in 1956. Woodrow Wilson, who was born just up the road a bit from me, suffered a serious stroke, but the public did not know that for months. Grover Cleveland secretly had cancer surgery in 1893 aboard a friend’s yacht. Four presidents—William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Warren G. Harding, and Franklin Roosevelt—died in office due to poor health. Yet, the history of our nation shows that a President’s disability does not seriously affect his ability to serve.

In the age of television, however, a candidate’s health matters more than ever. Unfortunately, it would be very difficult for a candidate with a physical disability to be elected President of the United States. In 1960, those who listened to the Kennedy-Nixon debate on the radio believed Nixon won the debate, but those who watched the debate on television saw Kennedy as the victor. Nixon, having refused makeup, sweated profusely throughout the debate and looked weak and tired under the lights. Had Nixon used makeup, would Jack Kennedy ever have become President?

How much does the public need to know about a candidate’s health? I really believe the public has a right to know very little about a candidate’s health. Some health issues are very private, and you just don’t need to know them about your President. You see, some things just aren’t anyone’s business—whether the patient is a candidate for President of the United States or your next-door neighbor.

I only need to know—and I believe I only have a right to know—if a candidate’s health will affect his/her performance in the Oval Office. That’s it. Any other health issues ought to be private, just as you surely would like to keep much of your health information private.

The Presidency should not be closed to those with disabilities. The disabilities of past presidents were closely guarded secrets. If a man or woman has trouble walking or speaking or hearing or some other disability but can make important decisions both in and out of moments of crises, I see no reason that person cannot serve as President of the United States. We need to move beyond looking at people and judging them passed on physical disabilities. God doesn’t view people based on physical appearance—“Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Sam 16:7)—why, then, should we? David didn’t look how Samuel thought a king should look, but he still led the people of God. Maybe someone doesn’t look how we think a leader should look because of some disability, but he or she may still be able to render effective service.

Obviously, mental disabilities would present some serious challenges for leadership positions. Unfortunately, too many people with mental disabilities receive unjust treatment in our world, but the American people should know that their President is not mentally impaired when it comes to making important decisions. After all, I can’t imagine any of us desiring someone with poor reasoning skills in charge of America’s nuclear arsenal. Some have claimed that President Ronald Reagan was suffering from Alzheimer’s in his second term; while those claims have not been substantiated, a President suffering from such a debilitating mental disease is a frightening thought. Yes, we need better treatment and respect for mentally challenged individuals, but that doesn’t mean they need to serve as President of the United States.

I don’t care if the candidate is Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Rand Paul, or Tim Johnson, as long as the would-be President is mentally able to meet the challenges of the office, the American people can be well-served (yes, your definition of “well-served” may differ from the President’s). Those are my thoughts.

God bless!

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