Presidential Health No Longer a Secret?
Cover-ups of Presidential Ailments Were Once Commonplace, but Experts Say That Could Be Changing
Why the Secrecy?
Why have past administrations chosen to conceal presidential ailments?
Cynics might say the presidents' advisors simply wanted to run the show, but
Post believes the answer is more complex. No one knows how news of a serious
presidential illness might impact the economy, global relations, or other
critical issues. The thought of an ailing president is
The result, Post says, is that political considerations have often trumped
medical reality in proclaiming the commander in chief fit for office.
A New Era
Post and Sabato agree it's inappropriate and increasingly difficult to
deceive the public about a president's health. There is evidence that recent
administrations have been more transparent in this area -- for example, by
releasing detailed summaries of the president's annual physicals. (See sidebar,
"What's in a President's Physical?")
"In this era of investigative journalism and blogs, there has been a
fundamental change," Post says. Presidential health has come under the
microscope as "a matter of legitimate public interest."
The same applies to the health of presidential candidates, Sabato says.
Medical information is available for voters to consider. "It's very
important in the case of [Republican front-runner] John McCain. He would be the
oldest president in American history, and he's already had a bout with skin cancer. So his vice
presidential candidate will get even more scrutiny than usual."
Mitigating McCain's age, Sabato says, is the fact that the senator's mother
is "lively" at age 95.
Sabato says he's unaware of any major medical problems among the Democratic
For all the candidates, he adds, the campaign itself is a kind of medical
test. "Most people see them on the campaign trail and see this remarkable
expense of energy. The public's view is that anyone who can go through this
obstacle course of a nominating process must be vigorous enough for the