Editor’s note: This is the 35th entry in the writer’s project to read one book about each of the U.S. Presidents in the year prior to Election Day 2016. Follow Marcus’ progress at the Twitter account and the .
Just as I was wrapping up Robert Dallek’s terrific JFK biography An Unfinished Life last month, news broke of Hillary Clinton nearly fainting on her way to her vehicle as she left a 9/11 memorial event.
The Clinton campaign quickly issued a statement that the candidate was battling pneumonia (an ailment which, I can attest, is no joke). Still, a portion of the right-wing commentariat diagnosed it as proof of some kind of secret ailment.
The idea that Clinton would campaign for president while hiding a debilitating disease is pretty far-fetched. But it does have roots in presidential history. Take Woodrow Wilson and the stroke that left his wife running the country in all but name. And take the man I was just reading about: John F. Kennedy.
What sticks out of this biography is the depth of pain and illness that Kennedy lived with and how he continued to hide it not only while running for office, but while in office.
Have been riveted by JFK’s medical ailments and the way in which he drove through them.
44 in 52 (@44in52) September 7, 2016
Addison’s Disease, colitis, osteoporosis, and prostatitis were the main medical woes facing Kennedy. His issues were so myriad that, as Dallek noted to ABC News just ahead of the release of his book, Kennedy was on as many as a dozen drugs at one time.
Painkillers, steroids, and antibiotics were constantly flowing through Kennedy’s veins. At times, interactions between the competing medications could create adverse effects.
Great efforts were made to hide Kennedy’s condition lest it impact his chance at the presidency. Dallek relates the panic that ensued when, during a 1960 campaign trip to Connecticut, JFK’s bag of drugs couldn’t be found.
A far more complex man than I ever appreciated; at times over-confident but also under-estimated. A mix of crusader and pragmatist
44 in 52 (@44in52) September 10, 2016
There’s plenty more fascinating material about JFK, such as his intense competition with older brother (and first Kennedy child) Joe, Jr. the sibling whom the patriarch Joseph Kennedy, Sr. had marked for success. It was only after Joe Jr.’s death in World War II that JFK became the family’s choice.
And, lord, what to say about his upbringing with Papa Joe and his competition with Joe Jr and how that shaped him?
44 in 52 (@44in52) September 10, 2016
JFK had his darker sides, too: his incessant womanizing, his hemming and hawing over the Civil Rights movement.
But Dallek always come backs to Kennedy’s health and he claims there is no evidence to suggest that it ever affected Kennedy’s performance in office. Still, it’s hard not to have some skepticism when looking at all of the challenges he faced.
Think of the issues Kennedy had faced by the time the Cuban Missile Crisis was unfolding:
That’s an astounding to-do list for any president, let alone a president who could barely walk or talk without excruciating pain. Kennedy was hardly a success on all of them (Bay of Pigs, Civil Rights) so it was hard not to let it hover in the back of my mind.
Of course, the first thing most of us think about when JFK is brought up is his assassination. As Dallek points out in an epilogue added for the 2013 version of the book, it was the death of Kennedy the optimist at such a young age that has left us remembering him as an incredibly popular president.
Never mind that his medical conditions would disqualify him from holding that office today. Never mind the string of affairs. What we remember is the smiling young man with a beautiful wife, challenging the nation with “New Frontiers,” daring America to go to the moon within a decade.
I can’t help but wonder if, 20 years from now, we learn that Trump or Clinton actually was dealing with some sort of illness when running and serving as president.
For as much as we obsessed over it for a week, will it even matter? Or would their own legacy be enough to keep those kinds questions in the shadows?
Days to read Washington: 16
Days to read Adams: 11
Days to read Jefferson: 10
Days to read Madison: 13
Days to read Monroe: 6
Days to read J. Q. Adams: 10
Days to read Jackson: 11
Days to read Van Buren: 9
Days to read Harrison: 6
Days to read Tyler: 3
Days to read Polk: 8
Days to read Taylor: 8
Days to read Fillmore: 14
Days to read Pierce: 1
Days to read Buchanan: 1
Days to read Lincoln: 12
Days to read Johnson: 8
Days to read Grant: 27
Days to read Hayes: 1
Days to read Garfield: 3
Days to read Arthur: 17
Days to hear Cleveland: 3
Days to read Harrison: 4
Days to read McKinley: 5
Days to read T. Roosevelt: 15
Days to read Taft: 13
Days to read Wilson: 10
Days to read Harding: 3
Days to read Coolidge: 7
Days to read Hoover: 9
Days to read FDR: 11
Days to read Truman: 14
Days to read Eisenhower: 11
Days to read JFK: 23
Days behind schedule: 21
Originally found athttp://mashable.com/
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