Hillary Clinton’s wobble puts her health front and centre

Democratic candidate’s pneumonia makes her health more than a fringe-media concern

Presidential candidate Hilary Clinton has said in a CNN interview that she's "met a high standard of transparency" about her health and didn't think the pneumonia was "going to be that big a deal."Courtesy: CNN


For weeks Hillary Clinton has laughed off questions about her health, claiming that they were the latest supermarket-tabloid conspiracy theories generated by the “alt-right” movement to damage her.

She used a late-night talk-show appearance with comedian Jimmy Kimmel last month to dispel rumours about her allegedly sickly condition and ridicule a National Enquirer story in October 2015 that she had six months to live. Kimmel even had her open a jar of pickles to prove her wellness.

Now, just as she questions Republican Donald Trump’s fitness to be the next US president on a near-daily basis, Clinton’s health scare over the weekend has turned the question back on her and made the queries raised by her opponents seem entirely legitimate and reasonable.

The Democratic presidential nominee has had a horrid few days. A day after she expressed regret for calling half of Trump’s supporters a “basket of deplorables” – a gaffe Trump compared with Mitt Romney’s “47 per cent” self-inflicted wound four years ago – Clinton suffered another wobble, literally.

On Sunday, Clinton abruptly left a memorial to the victims of the September 11th, 2001 attacks in New York City and appeared to stumble into her black van with assistance from aides and Secret Service agents. The incident was caught on video. Her campaign later said she felt “overheated” and left for her daughter Chelsea’s nearby apartment in downtown Manhattan to recover.

A short time later, she was filmed leaving the apartment, waving to supporters and telling reporters she was feeling fine again. Her campaign team later said that she was examined by her doctor, Dr Lisa Bardack, at her home in Chappaqua, New York and was “recovering nicely” after becoming “overheated and dehydrated” earlier in the day.

The doctor noted that Clinton had been diagnosed with pneumonia on Friday after examining her over “a prolonged cough” she had that was related to allergies. She had suffered a nearly two-minute coughing fit at a Labour Day rally last week in Cleveland, Ohio, which she again tried to make light of. “Every time I think about Trump I get allergic,” she said, to laughs from the crowd.

Campaign events in California, including fundraisers and an appearance on talk show Ellen, scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, were cancelled to allow Clinton to rest and recover.

The fact that the Clinton campaign only released details of her pneumonia after her stumble on Sunday morning raises questions about whether her team had planned to reveal it at all. She had appeared at two fundraisers, attended a national security meeting and took questions from reporters at a press conference between her diagnosis and the incident on Sunday morning.

Ammunition for Trump

“I hope she gets well soon. I don’t know what’s going on. Like you, I see what I see. Something’s going on but I just hope she gets well,” he said.

The Republican nominee is not immune from similar questions about his own health. Trump said that he would release “very, very specific numbers” from a medical examination he took last week. Fox reported that the reality TV star planned to release those details during an appearance on The Dr Oz Show on Thursday.

Trump’s doctor of 35 years, Dr Harold Bornstein, admitted last month that he wrote a much-lampooned public declaration of health for the candidate, proclaiming that the businessman would be “the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency”, in just five minutes while a limousine sent by the candidate waited outside his office for the letter to be written.

Health should be an issue in this election for this high office of high stress. If elected, Trump (70) would be the oldest president in history. Clinton, who turns 69 two weeks before the election, would be the second oldest.

Criticism over the Clinton campaign’s handling of her health issue comes not just from Republican circles. Barack Obama’s former chief political strategist David Axelrod criticised the campaign shroud of secrecy that surrounds the Democratic candidate. “Antibiotics can take care of pneumonia. What’s the cure for an unhealthy penchant for privacy that repeatedly creates unnecessary problems?” he tweeted.

The episode, as Trump says, legitimately puts Clinton’s health front and centre in the election campaign and an issue that cannot simply be dismissed as a malicious gossip fuelled by “the right”.

“Whispers about her health have been floating around the fringes of the media for years,” said Democratic strategist and Clinton supporter Jim Manley. “What this incident has done is allow the mainstream media to be able to follow up on it without feeling like it is chasing the latest conspiracy theory.”

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