There are 324 million people in the world who have migraines. But only one of them, apparently, is running for president of the United States.
Should it matter? That’s one of the questions enveloping Washington this week, as reports reveal that Michele Bachmann suffers from the debilitating headaches. A report in The Daily Caller quoted anonymous former aides describing numerous and frequent migraine episodes that have prompted her to miss campaign events as a result. The Bachmann campaign released a statement from the Tea Party favorite herself as well as a letter from her physician, who called the headaches infrequent and controlled by medicine.
It’s a tricky question. On the one hand, presidents have suffered from worse. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was crippled with polio. George Washington was apparently practically deaf. And Ronald Reagan was showing signs of Alzheimer’s while still in office. And let’s not forget that advanced age certainly means there’s a capacity risk in place—but that didn’t stop voters from selecting then-72-year-old John McCain as the most recent Republican nominee for president.
At the same time, the presidency is unrivaled when it comes to stress-filled, high-pressure jobs. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to think even the least difficult days of a presidency would give the healthiest of people a headache. The immensity of the job, the overwhelming number of responsibilities it entails, the weight of being the leader of the free world—these are demands that any person, whether the picture of health or suffering from a malady, should consider carefully before going after the job.
I’m inclined to trust that if the House’s attending doctor says the migraines occur infrequently and are under control with medication, that the controversy surrounding Bachmann’s headaches is overblown. (And potentially sexist—as several observers have noted, the idea that a woman can’t handle the stress of such a demanding job does fit with antiquated female stereotypes.) If anything, as the Post’s Chris Cillizza points out, Bachmann’s migraine problem could end up making her more relatable to the millions of voters who suffer from migraines.
While it may not be something to ignore, Bachmann’s reportedly well-controlled and medically managed migraines shouldn’t be what voters focus on. The real questions—if not concerns—should be about whether her experience is fit for the presidency and how she can continue to maintain her irresponsible position on not raising the debt ceiling as this country faces the unimaginable consequences of defaulting on its debt. That, after all, is a debilitating migraine that could incapacitate us all.
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