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Presidential Health and the Public Interest: The Campaign of 1992

Herbert L. Abrams
Political Psychology
Vol. 16, No. 4 (Dec., 1995), pp. 795-820
DOI: 10.2307/3791894
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3791894
Page Count: 26
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Presidential Health and the Public Interest: The Campaign of 1992
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Abstract

Concern over the issue of presidential health and temporary disability led to the ratification of the 25th Amendment in 1967. Knowledge of the illnesses of Cleveland, Wilson, Roosevelt, Kennedy, and the attack on Reagan in 1981 has stimulated an inquiry into the guidelines for invocation of the 25th, the role of the vice-president and the cabinet, and the behavior of physicians and the president in concealing their health problems from the public. The health of the presidential candidates has generally attracted far less attention, even with the example of an enfeebled Franklin D. Roosevelt who died less than three months after inauguration. During the election of 1992, however, important questions of health and the public's right to know arose in the campaigns of a number of the candidates. George Bush's hyperthyroidism was well publicized, but the potential effect of the rapid destruction of his thyroid gland by radioactive iodine was not generally understood. Paul Tsongas' doctors declared him "cancer free" following marrow transplantation for his lymphoma, when in fact he had a recurrence that required treatment one year later. Pat Buchanan concealed his valvular heart disease from the electorate until after the last primary, even though cardiac surgery had been scheduled for valve replacement. Perot, described as a "paranoid with delusions" by Bush's press secretary, stonewalled when asked about his health and refused even to provide a doctor's letter to reporters. Clinton defended his "zone of privacy" and at first rejected interviews on the subject of his health. Later, after criticism by major newspapers, his physicians were allowed to write detailed letters and to be interviewed by the press. The candidates' problems and behavior emphasize the strength of the case for full disclosure of significant details of their medical history. The public should be fully informed before they express their preference in the ballot; no claims of privacy, confidentiality, or privilege can obscure the obligations of the candidates to be candid with the electorate.

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