Good morning, it’s Friday, Oct. 2, 2020, the day the week when I reprise an instructive or inspirational quotation. Given the news jolt of the day — Donald and Melania Trump have both tested positive for COVID-19 — I thought a fitting topic would be presidents and their health challenges.
First, I’ll point you to RealClearPolitics’ front page, which presents our poll averages, videos, breaking news stories, and aggregated opinion pieces spanning the political spectrum. We also offer an array original material from our own reporters, columnists, and contributors this morning, including the following:
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Media Willfully Ignore New Hunter Biden Scandal. Mark Hemingway calls out the press for quashing a bombshell report of a $3.5 million foreign payment to Joe Biden’s son, giving the public yet more reason to distrust journalists.
COVID-19 Is Also a Crisis for Democracy and Human Rights. Michael J. Abramowitz and Jeremy Rosner spotlight sobering findings from a survey of experts and activists who monitor 192 countries for government repression of the public and press.
Five Facts on Lifetime Appointments to the Supreme Court. No Labels has this primer in RealClearPolicy.
George Melloan Thoroughly Changed How We Think. RealClearMarkets editor John Tamny pays tribute to the late deputy editorial page editor of the Wall Street Journal.
Gene Editing: New Frontier in Climate Innovation. In RealClearScience, a trio of authors write that the practice is unlocking ways to enhance natural carbon sinks, limit emissions from agriculture and other gas-emitting sectors, and improve biofuels.
“Moonshot” Energy Innovation Initiative Could Help Rebuild Our Economy. In RealClearEnergy, Andy Barnes and John Buttles propose a bipartisan fix.
Batteries: The Positives and Negatives of America’s Energy Future. Also in RCE, Steve Christensen examines a 220-year odyssey.
Georgetown Promotes Free Speech But Students Don’t Feel It. In RealClearEducation, John Hirschauer highlights problems at the school, which ranked near the bottom in RealClear’s college free-speech survey.
How Religious Liberty Drives Human Flourishing. Christos A. Makridis lays out his evidence in RealClearReligion.
NATO and the U.N. Need Some Major Updates. Daniel Davis explains in RealClearWorld.
Defense Acquisition Reimagined. In RealClearDefense, Bryan Smith laments that decades of rules to guard against price gouging have had the opposite effect, launching costly compliance with endless statutes, regulations, executive orders, and instructions.
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U.S. presidents tend not to be hypochondriacs. Quite the opposite, really. George Washington and Andrew Jackson (our first and seventh commanders-in-chief) were stoic in the face of battle wounds and other maladies that would fell many a modern man. In 1893, Grover Cleveland had six surgeons remove a cancerous tumor through the roof of his mouth with only topical anesthetic. The operation was performed in secret, aboard a yacht. Instead of asking for prayers and good wishes, Cleveland concealed the surgery from his fellow Americans — hence the maritime operating room — and covered it up when one journalist wrote about it.
Speaking of cover-ups, John F. Kennedy took steroids to hide his debilitating symptoms of Addison’s disease, which he and his aides actively kept from the public to the point of lying about it. Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously refused to be photographed in his wheelchair, part of an extended ruse designed to convinced voters that he’d somehow been cured of polio.
These examples ultimately led to an altering of attitudes, spurred by journalists, in which accurate information about a president’s personal health is now considered the public’s business.
Many observers have asserted that full disclosure of their health problems would have cut FDR’s political career short and precluded JFK from ever reaching the White House. Perhaps so, but historian Robert Dallek, who literally wrote the book on Kennedy’s health problems, believes this would have been a mistake.
“Franklin Roosevelt was a paraplegic and he served there for 12 years. Kennedy had all these health issues, and he did a fine job as president,” Dallek said four years ago during the home stretch of another presidential campaign. “
“You overcome challenges, disabilities,” Dallek added. “And that was true with Franklin Roosevelt, and it served FDR brilliantly in the presidency because people in the Depression thought he had recovered from his polio and now he’s the one to lead the country through a recovery, so psychologically it gave him a hold on the public that was really helpful.”
Exploring this point further, the manner in which presidents — or any of us — respond to health challenges can shape our character, inform our actions, and reveal to others how we might respond in a crisis. These are important qualities to weigh when choosing a leader.
Franklin Roosevelt’s relative Theodore, for instance, was not a healthy child. His response as he grew older was to vigorously pursue all manner of sports and physical fitness regimens, ranging from boxing to horsemanship. The riding came in handy in the Spanish-American War. The boxing not so much: TR simply wasn’t the pugilist he thought himself to be. Then again, maybe it taught him how to take a punch. This trait certainly came in handy in Milwaukee on Oct. 14, 1912, while campaigning for president as a third-party candidate on the “Bull Moose” ticket.
A gunman in the crowd fired a pistol at Roosevelt, and hit him, too. The bullet struck TR in the chest, but its effects were blunted by an eyeglass case — and a folded up copy of his lengthy speech — in his breast pocket. With a bullet in his ribs and bleeding through his clothes, Roosevelt decided to give his speech anyway before going to the hospital. He prefaced his remarks this way:
“I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot — but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose.”
And that’s your quote of the week.
Carl M. Cannon
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics