Hillary Clinton has pneumonia and is taking medication for that illness. This is the explanation given by Dr. Lisa R. Bardack, Clinton’s physician, as to why the Democratic presidential nominee abruptly left a ceremony in New York in New York honoring the 15th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, adding that Clinton has been suffering from a cough related to allergies. She had to be helped into a van by Secret Service agents.
The difficulty for Clinton’s campaign is that the statement from Dr. Bardack was released hours after the incident. Furthermore, no other information or explanation for the incident was given. Today Clinton press secretary Brian Fallon told MSNBC that it was the mistake of the campaign to not have gotten out more information more quickly. But questions surrounding the event and the timing of the doctor’s statement have already been widely questioned. However, the two potential issues about this incident have become conflated when they are in fact very different.
One, should Clinton and her campaign have publicly disseminated information about her diagnosis to the media and the American public immediately upon diagnosis? Two, should Clinton and her campaign have publicly disseminated her diagnosis to the media and the American public immediately after the incident? The answer to the first question is, no. To the second the answer is, yes. This is due to a difference in kind, not of degree.
First, a brief lesson in the transitive property. Older people get sick more often than younger people. Presidential candidates often get sick. If elected Hillary Clinton would be the oldest president in United States history at 69 years old. Hillary Clinton is older. Hillary Clinton is the Democratic presidential nominee. Hillary Clinton will get sick. Hillary Clinton has gotten sick. In and of itself this fact should not be surprising to anyone. Therefore, not having immediately diagnosed the illness should not have caused such consternation when it was revealed.
The real problem with the lack of immediate information provided is to be found in a lack of trust in Hillary Clinton. To a degree this lack of trust among the public and the press is understandable given the ongoing questions regarding Clinton’s private email server. The void between Clinton’s morning stumble and the late afternoon statement allows for seeds of doubt. If it took so long to issue a statement perhaps the problem is serious and pneumonia is simply a cover story. The issue becomes transparency, not health.
Additionally, there do seem to be legitimate questions regarding Hillary Clinton’s health. That is to say not enough information has been released regarding her past illnesses, treatments, etc. in order to gain a full and complete picture of her medical history. Also, not enough information has been released about this illness. Pneumonia is not one disease. There are multiple causes, multiple symptoms and multiple treatments dependent on the type of pneumonia contracted. Although it may be intuited that Hillary Clinton’s pneumonia is not very serious given her continuation of her campaign schedule until Sunday, there remains a lack of specificity which invites doubt. Especially when she subsequently begins to cancel events.
The diagnosis of pneumonia need not be immediately disseminated because it is a question of a non-serious medical ailment which should not affect Clinton in the long-term. The diagnosis should have been immediately disseminated upon her stumble because it then becomes a political problem. If taken from a electoral vantage, one (health) has no true value while the other (political) feeds into existing issues of the Clinton campaign. Only from the perspective that immediately disclosing the illness would have short-circuited this unforeseen incident need the diagnosis been immediately disseminated.
Clinton’s early exit and stumble do raise legitimate questions, but with very different reasoning and thereby very different answers.