Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Politicians get sick, and some make mistakes

Politicians get sick. Just like people do.

Hillary Clinton got sick. Her physician told her last Friday that it was pneumonia, told her to take some time off and rest. She didn't. She had a presidency to win. She couldn't let up. So that's what led to the eerie Sunday incident when the Democratic presidential nominee left the New York City 9/11 memorial service.

What made it weird was her clandestine departure. No announcement, no apology, no news reporters. She was simply whisked away. Hours later her campaign announced that she had gotten overheated at the ceremony and had to go to her daughter's apartment. Later still, the campaign announced the three-day-old diagnosis of pneumonia. Was she ashamed of getting pneumonia, as if it were a sexually transmitted disease?

It's not as if campaign trail illnesses were unheard of. Richard Nixon famously had been ill just before the 1960 presidential debates. Being sick didn't help his performance or his appearance, but he got through it. Lyndon Johnson showed off the incision from his gall bladder surgery. George H.W. Bush vomited at a state dinner in Japan. Dwight Eisenhower had a heart attack before his 1956 re-election bid. Jack Kennedy had a persistent, chronic illness most of his life, in addition to the back injury he sustained in World War II. FDR was deathly ill when he won re-election to a fourth term in 1944, only to die a few months later.

Illness is not a disqualifying factor in presidential politics. Clinton's stumble and near collapse getting into a waiting van should not be a factor in her presidential chances. But her penchant for secretiveness might hurt her electability. A smarter, less secretive, less controlling politician would have issued a statement last Friday. "I have pneumonia. The doctor says I have to take a few days off. See you next week." She didn't do that, prompting David Axlerod, who ran Barack Obama's campaigns, to tweet: "Antibiotics can take care of pneumonia. What's the cure for an unhealthy penchant for privacy that repeatedly creates unnecessary problems?"

What Clinton and her campaign staff should be worrying about is not her bout with pneumonia but her insensitive and incendiary comment about Donald Trump's supporters. She said half of Trump's supporters were "a basket of deplorables," then went on to describe them — racist, sexist, anti-gay, etc. She had to apologize for generalizing so badly. Trump wasted little time in telling supporters that "she thinks you're deplorable. I think you're hard-working." She gave him what might be his best line of the entire campaign. Few people disagree that Trump supporters include some racists (some of them proudly racist), sexists, anti-gays, misogynists and so forth, but that's no reason to insult "half" the Trump supporters.

Her remark is reminiscent of Trump's comments early in the campaign about Mexican immigrants being rapists, murderers, etc. Trump is shrewd enough to use her remarks to his advantage, and her words might turn away the more moderate of Trump's followers.

Clinton's secretiveness and her insulting categorization of blocs of voters have delivered two self-inflicted wounds to her campaign.

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