No, wondering about Hillary’s health is not sexist prejudice


One of my favourite Twitter accounts is @SoMuchGuardian, which highlights the self-parodying output of this trendy inner city leftie rag. One of the most recent opinion pieces, for example, is “Into the dystopian world of Beatrix Potter: Written at the height of Britain’s imperial project, these 23 little tales are really a primer for navigating the merciless currents of amoral capitalism”. Yes, really. By these standards, Jessica Valenti’s “Hillary Clinton, ‘weak’? Not from where I’m standing” almost sounds like an exercise in political sanity. Almost (the title prompted one of the readers to comment “Move closer”).

Ms Valenti sees questions about Hillary’s (literal) fitness to be a President as part of the long-running sexist campaign of double standards to deny women the opportunity to participate in public life:

Using health concerns as a cudgel to criticize women’s participation in public life, however, is nothing new. Our supposed fragility was a common anti-suffrage argument, for example, and suffragists were often painted as mentally unwell – their very desire to be part of the political process proof of their “hysteria”…

The truth is that the campaign trail is brutal, and working all hours through an illness like Clinton’s shows strength, not weakness. That we would see it as anything but stamina reveals a tired double standard. Besides, what’s more important right now than an individual’s health is the health of our nation. Coughs aside, I think we all know whose hands that would be safer in.

It’s pretty clear to most people that Hillary is not a well woman. The campaign trail is indeed brutal, as Ms Valenti writes, but so is the presidency itself. If Hillary is finding it hard, stressful and exhausting now, how will she take at least another four years of it? The Presidency of the United States of America is perhaps the most demanding job in the world (look how much it has aged Obama, despite his numerous holidays and golfing breaks); it is the most important and the most consequential one, not just for America but for the world, what with the president’s finger still on the nuclear button. It requires not just physical stamina but also mental one, a clear mind capable of quick thinking and rational decision-making in regards to some of the greatest contemporary problems, challenges and threats facing the country and the world. Wishing for a president that can withstand such rigours of the job is not an exercise in sexist double standards but a demand that every candidate at the very least meets the bare minimum requirements for the job.

Besides, there are no double standards. Older men like Ronald Reagan and John McCain have had their fitness for office routinely questioned and their health put under a microscope. Donald Trump’s mental state and mental fitness are being queried as much as Hillary Clinton’s physical health is. Trump is old too, and overweight, eats crap food and has a choleric temperament; the fact that his physical health has not been questioned as much as Hillary’s is that he has not been fainting, collapsing and having coughing fits.

Democrat politicians have a long and distinguished history of lying about their health, from Franklin D Roosevelt (in whose case it didn’t matter in practical terms) through John F Kenned (whose many ailments and the consequent symptoms, including near constant pain, as well as the range of necessary medications with their side effects, might have affected his judgment and performance). It’s not that wondering about Hillary’s health is a frivolous and baseless preoccupation, since she’s got a history, going back for years, of various worrying episodes and symptoms, which seem to have accelerated and worsened under the rigour of campaigning and the more constant spotlight of media attention. Had the Democrats selected a different woman, for example Elizabeth Warren, pundits would be questioning her American Indian ancestry as well as her crazy left wing politics, but no one would be questioning her health and fitness.

If the polls weren’t so worryingly swinging towards Trump, Tim Kaine would be quietly rubbing his hands right now.