It seems gauche to say this, but the argument has to be made:
Even if the worst rumors about Hillary Clinton’s health are true, she still needs to win this election.
This is a critically important observation, and yet it seems to have been lost amidst the conjectures as to the deeper meaning of her health scare at a 9/11 commemoration earlier this week. There are only two possibilities: Either Clinton is telling the truth – that is, she was diagnosed with pneumonia on Friday and it alone caused her stumble on Sunday – or she is concealing something far worse. There has been plenty of speculation as to the possible details of the latter. Indeed, because a cottage industry of conspiracy theories regarding Clinton’s health pre-existed this recent incident, it’s inevitable that the most outlandish conjectures are going to now assume an aura of legitimacy.
The bottom line, though, is that even if Clinton is indeed suffering from a potentially fatal ailment, it doesn’t matter in this election. The prospect of a Donald Trump presidency is far worse than that of a Tim Kaine administration.
It’s a morbid thing to say, but since this is the whole point of speculating about Clinton’s heath right now, it needs to be directly addressed. There are three underlying concerns whenever the question of a president’s or potential president’s health is raised:
- Are they physically and mentally fit to occupy the Oval Office?
- Should Americans be concerned if their vice president suddenly assumed power due to their death or incapacitation?
- Are the two aforementioned possibilities, on balance, better or worse than the prospect of the candidate’s main opponent winning the election?
The first concern is most valid here, mainly owing to Clinton’s notorious reputation for secretiveness. Based on what we know for sure (that she stumbled once in public and has since been diagnosed with pneumonia), there isn’t any reason to believe Clinton is unfit to serve as president. The problem is that, because most Americans are inclined to distrust her, the collective instinct is to suspect the worst. For this, Clinton has no one but herself to blame.
That said, even if Clinton is concealing a more serious health condition, the last two questions raised here render that fact moot. The Democratic vice presidential candidate, Timothy Michael Kaine, is a perfectly safe presidential possibility. Since I’ve already explained this in greater detail, I won’t elaborate too much here, but the general consensus about Kaine seems to align with my own anyway. Ideologically he is a center-left Democrat more or less indistinguishable from Clinton, and his record as Governor of Virginia and United States Senator is solid but unremarkable. Overall he has a reputation for being innocuous, competent, and clean-cut, the kind of man who can set the Internet aflame with jokes about how he seems like a bland Dad figure. There is nothing to dislike about him that one couldn’t also oppose in Clinton, and since there aren’t any other red flags presently known about him, anyone inclined to vote for Clinton before her health scare shouldn’t feel less so now.
Most important of all, though, is the fact that the Republican presidential candidate is Donald Trump. This is a man who has blatantly and repeatedly pandered to racism, xenophobia, and misogyny throughout his presidential campaign. He has no government experience whatsoever and touts as his sole qualification a business career marred by controversy, lawsuits, and bankruptcies. Regardless of his ideology, these character flaws inherently disqualify him from the presidency.
To explain what I mean by this, it’s useful to contrast Clinton’s predicament with other recent presidential candidates whose health suddenly became an issue during an election. When Bob Dole publicly fell on a stage during the 1996 presidential election, the issue didn’t hurt him too much because his running mate, Jack Kemp, was well-known for his intelligence and successful career as a congressman; when Dole lost, most pundits attributed it to other factors. By contrast, when John McCain picked the transparently unqualified and ideologically extreme Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008, his status as a septuagenarian (which Trump shares) suddenly became quite relevant. More importantly, the Democrats running on each of these occasions were Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, both of whom are no better or worse than most conventional politicians.
Trump, on the other hand, is far worse than any of the traditional politicians from either party, and in terms of character and qualifications Kaine is much closer to Kemp than Palin. That is the defining reality of this presidential election, and even though it’s being overshadowed right now, that doesn’t make it any less relevant.
The stakes are too high to avoid stating the obvious just because it makes us uncomfortable.