Even the President of the United States, it appears, is not free of an obligation to be healthy. Society is even conveniently provided with the means of policing him, in the form of ample news stories about his latest physical. The Guardian had three stories up about it at the same time! A British paper, I would add! I don’t think any American papers cover the Queen’s health in such exhaustive detail.
A quick perusal of front pages and “health” sections at some major newspapers netted (warnings on all of these links for health/food policing, sizeism, ableism, don’t read the comments, &tc.):
What’s interesting and horrific about all of these stories is that they go well beyond “the President had a physical and was pronounced fit for duty.” They provide explicit and detailed medical information about medications, injuries, his blood pressure and pulse, and recommendations made by his doctor.
Apparently HIPAA does not apply to Presidents.
And apparently Presidents are subject to the health police just like the rest of us. The President should eat less pie! The President should quit smoking! The President should use a different exercise routine! The President should be mocked for eating arugula! All of these things are repeated, with varying degrees of force, in the news articles about his physical. Indeed, many of those articles are being used by their authors to launch little screeds on their own agendas (anti-pie, anti-smoking, exercise prescriptionism, anti-arugula). In the eyes of the media, evidently, the President’s health is not just an object of public consumption, it is a teachable moment packed with moral object lessons.
Here’s what I think about the President’s health: It’s not my business, except in some very special circumstances.
I assume that if the President does have health concerns, he can deal with them privately, and he has the right to do so. I would certainly never dictate what he should or should not do because I am not the President. I am not living in his body. I don’t know what kind of needs his body has, and can’t presume to imagine that I do know. His medical appointments are his own affair. His nutrition is his business. His medications are a personal matter.
There are certain situations in which the President’s health would become a matter of concern to me. If, for example, he was in a coma, that would be something I would like to know, because I have worries about the continuity of government. If something was temporarily preventing him from making sound decisions, I would prefer that he not be holding the nuclear football, but I don’t particularly need to know what might be impairing his judgment. Indeed, I don’t even need to know why other people are temporarily taking over Presidential duties; I just need to know that things are being handled appropriately.
I do not need to know President Obama’s blood pressure. I don’t need to know his cholesterol levels. I don’t need to know about what medications he takes, where his sports injuries are, what he eats and when, or even how tall he is. None of this information is relevant to being the President of the United States.
And all of these reports salivating over the details of the President’s medical record fill me with new awe that FDR managed to conceal many of the aspects of his disability. A different era, indeed.
Given the fact that not only the US media but the international media is covering the results of the Presidential physical in such graphic detail, I am curious to know if readers in other countries have noticed similar trends in terms of mediasplosions over the health of their heads of state1. Is it unusual to see such coverage, or par for the course?
- It’s not just heads of state here who are subject to such intense scrutiny, of course; here in California, Senator Pat Wiggins has been mercilessly pursued by the media over her health issues. This includes rampant speculation about the kinds of medical issues she might be experiencing and whether or not she is able to serve as a Senator. ↩