McCain’s Maverick Left Eye and a History of Presidential Infirmity
A few perceptive bloggers have commented on Sen. John McCain’s left eye and its tendency to buck the facial party line and do its own thing. In essence it is lately forging its own path – it is becoming clearer that McCain the Maverick may have a maverick left eye. Of course the significance here is that it calls further into question McCain’s health concerns. The maverick left eye of the maverick right-winger has some bloggers speculating about the possibility of a recent stroke. More to the point, this last bout of rumors calls into question McCain’s refusal to release his medical records as well as his choice of successor in V.P. running mate Gov. Sarah Palin. It may seem as if McCain’s health is receiving more-than-usual attention. Yet, these concerns are exacerbated by the fact that, if elected, McCain would be the oldest ascending president in American history. In fact he’d be older than reigning geriatric champ Ronald Reagan by nearly a full presidential term – and it is widely believed the younger Reagan may have suffered dementia for at least part of his administration. So, perhaps such medical scrutiny is warranted. Moreover, it is a perfect time to delve into our presidential past and dig up health records for some of our commanders-in-chief.
Presidential health concerns go all the way back to our humble beginnings as an upstart young nation. Throughout our history the Presidents’ true medical condition has always been kept from the public until after they’ve departed the highest office. But since the beginning there have been concerns. Even our, now seemingly immortal, Founding Fathers had serious medical issues. Our first president didn’t have it too bad. George Washington’s worse affliction was rotten teeth. Everyone’s heard about his wooden dentures. As the richest man in the country, he did not have to rely on comprehensive dental coverage either. His successor John Adams however didn’t have it so lucky. It is now widely believed by historians he suffered from depression. Although Adams lived to a ripe old age, doctors prescribed a diet of toast and milk. He maintained this diet for fourteen years. No wonder he was depressed. Actually depression has been quite common among our presidents. It seems all that responsibility takes its toll. Calvin Coolidge reportedly slept eleven hours a day – a result of his personal battle with depression. If George Bush’s recent appearance is any indication, he probably tries to hide under the covers as much as possible, too.
A healthy looking candidate is no safe bet either, as seemingly hale and hearty presidents have simply dropped dead. Zachary Taylor fell stone cold after eating a Fourth of July dessert. Gastroenteritis they called it, some claim assassination by poison. William Harrison died of pneumonia after serving only one month. When it’s your time, it’s your time. Often presidents suffered long battles with medical malaises. John Kennedy appeared vibrant and strong, but in fact he endured a long list of ailments. He was under constant medical supervision and treatment. Chester A. Arthur probably suffered the most painful affliction – Bright’s Disease. His years in the White House were excruciating, as the inflammation of his kidneys left him gasping for breath, chronically feverish and physically ballooned from retained body fluids.
William H. Taft suffered from a condition probably most relevant to modern Americans – hyper-obesity. He weighed in at over 400 lbs. This condition caused hypersomnolence – he’d fall asleep mid-conversation, sometimes with foreign heads of state. This was a guy that would love our America today. He’d no doubt be a Wal-Mart-and-back-in-time-for-Rachel-Rae-and-bon-bons kind of guy. However, just as he was a larger-than-life man, he was a larger-than-life public servant. Despite his obesity, he can boast a tireless record of service to our country. He was provincial governor of the Philippines and Cuba (think Bremer in Iraq). He served as U.S. Solicitor General and Secretary of War (think Paul Clement and Donald Rumsfeld). He of course served as our 27th president and then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (think John Roberts… if he ate David Souter). Imagine all those people rolled up into one man. One very large man. McCain should be inspired by Taft’s ability to overcome his health issues. Yet there are two presidents in particular whom John McCain can look to for even more inspiration. The two presidents who rose above their poor health to lead our country when we needed them most were Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Roosevelt was in such obvious dire-straits healthwise that he purposely chose the highly popular and uncontroversial Harry Truman as his running mate. FDR worried that he wouldn’t live through his final term and he wanted to leave the country in good hands. Clearly, McCain has courageously considered this stark reality himself with his practical selection of the proven leader Sarah Palin.
As for Woodrow Wilson, he serves as an even clearer example of how best McCain can serve his country with complete disregard for his poor health. Surprisingly, this is not in reference to Wilson’s most obvious health concern – his bad teeth. Washington already proved you don’t need any teeth to lead the country, not when we have good, solid Yankee hickory. Wilson proved you can still lead, though every tooth in your skull is rotted and black. These two exemplars will serve McCain well as he too is a dentally-challenged individual. This too has not gone unnoticed within the blogosphere. No, we are not speaking about Wilson’s “busted grill”, nor McCain’s. Unbeknown to the nation, Wilson also suffered a stroke late in his presidential term. It is now thought to have been a seriously debilitating stroke, all but incapacitating the president. However, Wilson, like McCain, had a second wife and she, also like McCain’s, was very strong willed. She took on a “stewardship” role in her husband’s presidency. She is often considered more than just a first lady but “the first lady to lead our government” and often referred to as “the first female president”. In fact, she shrewdly kept V.P. Thomas Marshall from assuming power. As Wilson was essentially out-of-commission, his wife did more than stand by her man – she stood in for her man.
The presidency has been frought with illness and disease and, in at least one case, clinical insanity. Clearly health is no rationale reason to discount a candidate. No matter how critical John McCain’s real medical condition might be, the American people can be assured through our own history. Like FDR, McCain has chosen a proven leader, loved by all, to ease any devastating, unfortunate transition. And like Ellen Wilson, Cindy McCain has the grit to step in and take over should a stroke or any other malady incapacitate her husband. Either way, he is surrounded by two strong-willed, capable women – both undoubtedly ready to be the next president in one way or another. So, there is no need to worry about that little maverick left eye.
Peter J. Burns