Project Wonderful

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Some Points About Hillary Clinton Being "Sick," From the Point of View Of Sick Person

I know, I know is my hot take machine broken? What's next for me to post about, "Eve Eats Apple?" As always happens as we round the bend into the electoral homestretch, the amount of stuff I want to write about expands inversely to the time in which I have to write it. Some of those posts have just gone by the wayside whereas others I still feel are worth addressing even though they are (thank God in this case) past their moment in the sun. For those who were taking their annual vacation under a rock that week, let me refresh your memories:

On September 11th, Hillary Clinton left early from a ceremony honoring victims of 9/11, saying she felt overheated. Breitbart "news" reported that Hillary had been rushed to the hospital after fainting which was (shockingly) not true. But video did show her faltering. Later her doctor reported that Sec. Clinton was suffering from pneumonia and was recovering nicely. This incident couldn't have come at a worse time since the Trump campaign has been pushing the narrative that Clinton was sick, weak, and frail. I'll let readers dissect the obvious misogyny of trying to insinuate that Hillary "lacks stamina" while I ask another question; what if Hillary were sick? So, what?

This story interested and angered me not only as a staunch Clinton supporter, and a Feminist, but as someone who has struggled with chronic illness her entire adult life. We have so much (important) conversation in the progressive community about destigmatizing mental illness (a charge that's been leveled at both major candidates with impunity) but what about physical? Somewhere in the heart of every "sick" person lies the fear and shame that we will be judged as incapable, as weak, or as lazy when in fact just the opposite is true. As many have now pointed out, Hillary Clinton should be commended for attending this ceremony despite a temporary physical ailment; It shows her commitment and her fortitude. Even as one who greatly admires Secretary Clinton, as a sick person I couldn't help but think, "I hope Hillary Clinton is sick. I hope she becomes an excellent President and it changes the way we think about illness."

After all, what does "sick" mean anyway? It seems clear that the Trump campaign was hoping to imply, if not discover, something more lasting and insidious than pneumonia. Exactly what physical ailment would have disqualified Clinton from executing the office of the Presidency? We now know that FDR was in a wheelchair, LBJ had heart problems, and JFK had Addison's Disease. Even my boy, Teddy Roosevelt, suffered from Asthma. And of course, no one could watch this story unfold without wondering, "Have you people even seen The West Wing?" All of these Presidents, both real and fictional, were exceptional leaders who, despite their obvious fitness for the job, strove to hide their physical ailments from the public. Why?

Well in Clinton's case it may have something to do with the fact that she knew she might be criticized just for having a real human body. After all this is a woman who has been pilloried for preparing for a debate, accused of corruption for using her connections to combat childhood AIDS, and lampooned as morally bankrupt for having been cheated ON. As a woman, she is socialized not to complain about physical discomfort perhaps because she is less likely to be believed if she does. Obvious and pervasive misogyny aside, I think there is another reason why Clinton was vulnerable to this line of attack. Despite the fact that about half of American adults suffer from some form of chronic illness, and the despite the vast body of evidence to the contrary, we still labor under the misperception that sickness equals weakness, not just a physical failure, but a moral one. My many colleagues who have campaigned with anything from the sniffles to a burgeoning cancer diagnosis can tell you that that is anything but the truth.

As we move further and further into an age of forced full disclosure, we need to reexamine what exactly is shameful to disclosure. To what standards do we hold our leaders that we don't hold ourselves and why? What are we reinforcing by doing so? I think the scariest thing about our leaders being sick is the idea that they are vulnerable and the scariest thing about that is that it means we are too. When we tell our children they can grow up to be anything, imperfect should be included, particularly when it comes to forces irrelevant to the task and beyond their control. Think about what message we send when "sick" is not a concern but an accusation we level at a candidate.

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