By now most of us have seen the video footage of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton apparently collapsing in the arms of staff and Secret Service agents and being dragged into a van after an abrupt exit from a 9/11 ceremony. After first saying that Clinton was simply “overheated,” her campaign later released a statement from her doctor that, three days earlier, Clinton had been diagnosed with pneumonia. The problem at the 9/11 ceremony, the doctor said, was that Clinton became dehydrated.
Having pneumonia certainly doesn’t disqualify a person from being President. We’ve had Presidents who have dealt with lots of illnesses over the years, and pneumonia is a treatable condition thanks to the miracle of modern medicine.
Still, I think the pneumonia incident is a problem for the Clinton campaign, because it once again suggests that Americans aren’t getting the whole story. Clinton has been dogged by coughing fits that have produced lots of chatter about her health — chatter that her campaign has tried to downplay as the feverish imaginings of right-wing nuts. Now she experiences a public health episode and has to be physically supported and lifted into a van, and the campaign first tries to downplay the incident. Then, when the story starts to really take hold, the campaign discloses that days earlier Clinton had learned she had pneumonia. You have to wonder whether her real condition would have been disclosed but for the fact that someone took a video that showed Clinton’s apparent collapse — a video that would make any fair-minded person wonder about her health.
This pneumonia incident is just one more example of the Clinton approach to bad news, whether it’s the investigation of her email practices, her fundraising speeches to Wall Street fat cats, or other issues. The first reaction is to deny, deny, deny, attack the messenger, and hope that friends in the media and the political world will cooperate in quashing the story. The facts ultimately come out in dribs and drabs, and you never feel like you get the whole truth.
Trust and credibility are important characteristics of a presidential candidate. Voters want to believe that the candidate of their choice is open, above board, and a person of integrity. The Clinton penchant for secrecy and denial is antithetical to that kind of belief. It’s one of the reasons why Clinton isn’t pulling away from Donald Trump, despite his many flaws. With the pneumonia incident we’ve just been reminded of her credibility issues in a very public, visible, undeniable way. It will be interesting to see how the voters react.