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Why I wrote about John McCain’s health in 2008 (and don’t think we should write about Hillary’s health now)

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). (Brett Carlsen/Associated Press)
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Within seconds of my post arguing that talk of Hillary Clinton's health problems was totally without merit going live on Tuesday, conservatives on Twitter — it's a micro-blogging site — immediately seized on a piece I had written back in 2008 about John McCain's health as an issue in the campaign. Here's one of the tweets I can print in this family blog:


I followed that link — because, no, I don't remember every piece I have ever written — but it was broken. I did manage to find the article though! It's here.

In it, I detailed McCain's decision to release more than a thousand pages of medical records that described his many injuries as a result of his captivity in Vietnam as well as his battle with cancer in the early 2000s. The basic thesis of the piece was that McCain and his team pulled off a political masterstroke by releasing so much documentation (1,100 pages!) when they did — the Friday before the Memorial Day weekend.

Regardless! The point is that I wrote about McCain's health as a real issue in 2008 and insisted Clinton's health isn't an issue this time around. Hypocrite! Hack! Biased! Liberal!

Here's the thing: We are talking about — and I am/was writing about — apples and oranges. Sure, it's easy to ascribe the difference in coverage to personal bias. Easy — and wrong.

Rewind back to the 2008 presidential campaign. And remember that McCain, if elected, would have been 72 years old — the oldest person ever to be elected president. Had he served two terms, McCain would have left office at 80.

That fact alone made his health a major issue in the context of the campaign. And McCain regularly acknowledged his age on the campaign trail — trying to use humor to deflect any doubts voters might have about him. "I'm as old as dirt and have more scars than Frankenstein," McCain was fond of saying.

Then there was the fact that McCain had fought melanoma in 2000. Here's what we wrote about McCain's fight with cancer when he released his full health records:

The records detail the five-hour operation in August 2000 to remove the most severe of McCain's four cases of melanoma, efforts to reduce the facial puffiness the surgery produced, and the strategy of dermatological hypervigilance that followed.
Melanoma is a form of skin cancer that is rapidly fatal if it spreads to distant organs, such as the lungs and brain. Physicians now examine the senator's skin every three or four months. He has had more than a dozen patches of abnormal skin cut out or chemically destroyed this decade. . . .
In a meeting attended by McCain, his wife, Cindy, and an unidentified "physician friend," Mayo Clinic ear, nose and throat surgeon Michael L. Hinni described how he was going to remove a large oval piece of tissue from the left side of the senator's face. He told them "it seems feasible to use this incision to remove all of the lymph nodes in his neck that are at risk, as he is going to incur the morbidity [damage] of the incision" anyway.
A "sentinel" lymph node — located by injecting the melanoma with blue dye before surgery — proved to be cancer-free. Nevertheless, a total of 38 lymph nodes, along with a portion of the parotid salivary gland, were removed.
The large opening in McCain's face was filled with a flap of skin that was cut from behind his ear.

That's serious stuff. And it was a major issue for a chunk of voters; in a series of polls, roughly one in three voters expressed concern about McCain's age as it related to the possibility of him serving as president.

Now, fast forward to today.

Clinton is 68 years old. (She will be 69 on Oct. 26.) She is running against someone who is 70. (Obama was 47 years old in the 2008 campaign.) Clinton has never had cancer. She suffered a concussion from a fall as a result of a stomach ailment. (If you believe that is a cover story for the "real" truth, I would say: More power to you. But conjecture isn't facts.) Cancer ≠ concussion. It just doesn't.

They are simply two separate people — and cases. McCain had a series of demonstrated health challenges — documented by his doctors — that voters were concerned about and that his campaign took effective action to counter. Clinton does not. It has zero to do with what party either candidate identifies with. In the 1992 presidential campaign, there was intense media coverage of whether then-Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas (a Democrat) had fully recovered from his own battle with cancer. In 2004, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (also a Democrat) faced similar questions after he underwent surgery to remove cancer in his prostate.

I didn't have a blog in 1992. (No one did.) And I didn't have one in 2004. (The Fix started in 2006.) So no, there aren't posts I wrote documenting Tsongas's health and what it might mean for the campaign. But I guarantee you I would have written them. Because McCain, Tsongas and Kerry all had major health issues — thankfully McCain and Kerry recovered; Tsongas died in 1997 after a recurrence of cancer — that factored into how voters perceived them and how they might perform in office.

That simply isn't the case with Clinton. While a portion of the public — most of whom have emailed me over the past 24 hours — believe not only that Clinton's health is a major issue but also that she is seriously ill, there's little evidence that this is a widespread belief. I did an extensive search of polling on the 2016 race and couldn't even find a credible pollster who had asked about whether the relative health/age of Clinton and Trump was a factor in voters's decision-making process. The closest I came was a Fox News poll conducted last spring that asked people whether they thought Clinton seemed too old to be president. Seventy-nine percent said she didn't seem too old; just 19 percent said she did.

And based on all available medical evidence — from an actual doctor who has actually examined Clinton — she suffered a concussion and resultant blood clot in 2012/2013 from which she has fully recovered.

Apples, meet oranges. Thanks for playing.