I read the news today (oh, boy)* that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie underwent gastric bypass surgery back in February. Christie apparently underwent the weight-reducing surgery at the behest of his family, and told the New York Post that "he wasn’t motivated by thoughts of running for president." Now, I find that a little hard to believe in a man who's ego is at least as big as his waistline, especially considering how he bridled at former White House physician Connie Mariano when the later said she worried about him dying in office.
*If you don't get it, look it up.
Let's give Christie's motives a pass for now and assume he's telling the truth. He wants to be healthier, he wants to be around for his family. That' s a noble sentiment. However, it does raise the question, which is this: should the health of a candidate for public office be a campaign issue?
Having said that, let's take it a step further: assuming that the health concern in question does not prevent the candidate from actually discharging the duties of said office, do we have the right - or the obligation - to consider whether or not that issue might limit the candidate's ability to complete the full term in office?
At first glance, I'll admit, this seems to be a very intrusive question. Yet, should Christie make the run for president, at the weight he currently carries, it's going to be asked. And the further one probes in considering it, the less clear-cut the answer becomes.
Let's take an example and work from there. There are no right or wrong answers, per se, but you might feel that some are more easily answered than others. So ask yourself if these are issues:
A cancer survivor, one whose cancer has been eradicated - an issue, or not? You'd probably say not, and I'd probably agree with you. But let's change it slightly - what about someone whose cancer was merely in remission? Paul Tsongas, for example, famously retired from the U.S. Senate in 1984 due to non-Hodgkin lymphoma. When he returned to politics, in his run for the 1992 Democratic presidential nomination, he made his survival of cancer an issue. But as Tsongas later admitted, he'd been treated for a recurrence of the cancer in 1987. It came back again after the campaign, and claimed his life on January 18, 1997. That would have been two days before his (first) term as president would have expired. An issue, or not?
What about a candidate, like the current president, who smokes (or has smoked)? It can shorten a lifespan, after all, as those government warning labels keep reminding us. An issue, or not?
How about someone with a history of Alzheimer's in the family tree? An issue, or not? Or does it depend on that person's age? An issue only if they're older? And how about age in the first place?
What about someone who's blind? And does it matter if they were born blind, became blind recently, or is blinded while in office? Does it affect that person's ability to exercise the duties of the office? Does it make them easier to deceive? An issue, or not?
What about someone with a condition that may well be terminal, but may not be? HIV? President Kennedy's Addison's disease? What about other conditions, such as diabetes, which might leave someone more susceptible to a coma if the blood sugar plunges? What about high blood pressure, which increases the risk of stroke? What about stress-related illnesses? MS? An issue, or not?
Obviously some of these may be more credible than others, but the question remains - are any of these issues that should be raised in a campaign?
As medical science continues to progress, we are able to discover predilections for some diseases long before their effects can be seen - sometimes, even in the womb. In some cases, a person could be disqualified for public office before they're even born.
We see Nanny Bloomberg's quest to rid New York City of anything that might possibly decrease the lifespan (i.e., things that aren't good for you) - so if these standards are being applied to the average consumer, do they exist for the candidate as well?
I don't pretend to have the answers, but that isn't going to stop me from asking the questions. ◙