Last week, headlines about the presidential race took a sharp turn away from policy and merit and toward the supposedly fluctuant health of the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. Unable to escape controversy, Clinton found herself under intense scrutiny after almost fainting at a Sept. 11 memorial service, the result of a brief bout of pneumonia that left her tired and dehydrated. Clinton had been reluctant to release medical details about her health, saying to reporter Anderson Cooper in an interview on Monday, “I just didn’t think it was going to be that big a deal.”
Opponents from the right again attacked Clinton for her penchant for privacy, which has partly undermined her attempt to earn the country’s trust in months past. In response, feminists and left-wingers castigated the media, citing a sexist undertone in their obsession with Clinton’s health. If Clinton were a man, they argue, she would not be attacked and scrutinized in the same way. Others disagree, claiming that any presidential candidate’s health is a justified concern and thus should be made more public. Are the cries of sexism warranted, or is the preoccupation with Clinton’s health a result of legitimate mistrust and a long-held concern over the candidate’s health?
There is reason to believe that the latest Clinton controversy is not about sexism at all but instead about the concerns of the American public. Journalist and author John Dickerson believes that the American public has demanded more transparency about the health of presidents and presidential candidates since the government’s unwillingness to divulge Eisenhower’s heart attack in 1955. Each election, there are indeed murmurs now and again about the candidates’ health. However, rarely are candidates hounded to the same extent as Clinton. In fact, in 2004, John Kerry battled walking pneumonia during his campaign, and the media was almost silent. Even now, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s release of his medical history, limited as it is, was only a ploy to gain polling power over Clinton rather than a response to any kind of scrutiny.
There is also a somewhat justified mistrust of Clinton following her email scandal. When a candidate employs secrecy in a campaign, a certain level of mistrust is understandable. Americans appreciate and desire transparency. But what about the double standards imposed by the media with regards to this openness? New York Times contributors Amy Chozick and Patrick Healy point out that Trump is not held to the same standards of transparency as Clinton. Whereas Clinton has released her tax returns, details on policy proposals and even last year’s medical information, Trump has not. Although he did make an appearance on “The Dr. Oz Show” to talk about his health, Trump disclosed less about the reality of his health and more about his admirable “stamina.” Ludicrous as it was, it was still enough to appease many Americans.
As this race marks a momentous time in history for the advancement of women, it is worth considering how Clinton’s gender may be contributing to these apparently unjust discrepancies. Undoubtedly, there remains an inequality of standards in this presidential race, whether those are about health or privacy. Regardless of whether it stems from sexism, this double standard creates an unfair dichotomy of privilege that takes away from the legitimacy of the presidential race. Clinton is right when she says of Trump, “It is past time for him to be held to the same standards.”