Hillary Clinton looks on the road to recovery from her episode of pneumonia, and all men and women of goodwill are glad of that. But we still don’t know whatever else it may be that ails the lady.
Partisans of limited goodwill should be careful of what they wish for: if Hillary retires from the race to take it easy to recover fully from something that looks more menacing than “walking pneumonia,” the Democrats could field a substitute with much stronger appeal to November voters. It’s difficult to imagine they could find someone with less.
Hillary and her wise men, flacks and flunkies apparently never learned that suppressing a story that’s likely to emerge in spite of everything they do is very risky business. When facts finally emerge the candidate and the campaign look foolish and exceedingly dishonest, and Hillary is not likely to regain whatever trust she had. It’s the oldest story in Washington, repeated as if on an endless reel of scandal across the years. Better to let it all hang out, and there’s no such thing as “limited hangout.” Richard Nixon and his wise men tried that, and look what happened to them.
Hillary and her defenders, many in the media — comprising what you might call a vast left-wing media conspiracy — have been peddling the story for days, weeks even, that she was in perfect health, and it was mean and irresponsible to ask questions about her stumbling, shuffling, coughing, wheezing and putting on weird facial expressions, given to inappropriate giggling with her head bobbing violently. The evidence was all out there on the internet, which anyone with a laptop, smartphone or iPad could see for him/her/self. It might have been unpatriotic to look, as if it were a wreck on the highway, but a lot of people looked, anyway.
Some of the nannies in the mainstream media answered legitimate skepticism with medical diagnoses of their own, parading the expertise of neurosurgeons, lung specialists and even chiropractors. As Hillary’s coughing fits became ever more obvious, her stumbling up stairs on the arms of solicitous aides became more frequent and more dramatic, her friends in the mainstream media became ever more scornful of anyone, however sympathetic, asking the obvious questions.
“The simple fact is that there is zero evidence that anything is seriously wrong with [Mrs.] Clinton,” wrote Chris Cillizza a few days ago in The Washington Post, though for all anyone knew his only medical training was at a barber and beauty college somewhere deep in Appalachia, fortified by mail-order courses in brain surgery. “If suffering an occasional coughing fit is evidence of a major health problem,” he continued, “then 75 percent of the country must have that mystery illness. And I am one of them.”
Only now does he seem willing to call in a specialist from another discipline, perhaps from Zurich or even Harvard Medical School. “Well,” he says of his earlier diagnosis, “that is no longer operative. A coughing episode is almost always just a coughing episode. But when coupled with [Mrs.] Clinton’s ‘overheating’ on Sunday morning — with temperatures something short of sweltering — [Mrs.] Clinton and her team simply need to say something about what happened (and why the press was in the dark for so long).
“And as The New York Times’ Adam Nagourney tweeted on Sunday morning, now might be a good time to release a fuller record of her medical history.”
Well, depending on what that “fuller” record could reveal. Who knows what Bubba might have brought home from the office? What makes things difficult for Hillary now is that no matter what she says a lot of people won’t believe her, and even those who want to believe her will take her words with a large serving of salt. Her humiliated press spokesman, Brian Fallon, who had to go out over the past weeks to say things he was not required to actually believe, says Hillary does not suffer from “other undisclosed conditions.”
Hillary has a record of dismissing as mere conspiracies well-founded stories that turn out to be true. She haughtily dismissed Monica Lewinsky as a figment of Matt Drudge’s imagination, she scorned the stories that said she was ailing from something that turned out to be pneumonia, and now her campaign — and her enablers in the mainstream media she burned on the pneumonia story — scoff at speculation that she suffers from a serious neurological disorder.
We can hope that the speculation is wrong without apologizing for asking to see the evidence. Only an examination by independent doctors — and we should include Donald Trump in this, too — can reassure a public that has all but decided to never believe anything anyone says.
• Wesley Pruden is editor-in-chief emeritus of The Times.