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Jay Ambrose: Sexism, health and Hillary Clinton

Tribune News Service Published: September 18, 2016 4:00 AM

The people asking questions about Hillary Clinton's health are sexists. They think women are weak. They think women are fragile. They think women can't handle tough jobs. So goes an angry name-calling thesis that doesn't end there but should end with a failing grade. Recent history, for starters, proves it wrong.

Go back to Sen. John McCain when he was running for president in 2008. He was sprightly and alert but was 71 -- just three years older than Clinton is today -- and had had melanoma. Release your medical records, some heatedly demanded. He did, 1,173 pages worth, at least for a brief period, and critics still had at him. But it was not because he was a woman.

No, it should be noted that McCain is a man, and so was President Ronald Reagan running for re-election in 1984 against former vice president Walter Mondale. A moderator went at him hard in a debate, noting he was the oldest president in history and saying there was therefore doubt he could handle certain kinds of tough situations. Reagan was ready.

"I will not make age an issue of this campaign," said the 73-year-old president who had once been shot. "I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience."

Even Mondale laughed, but there was justification for the question. By the end of his first term, Reagan had had his lapses and was hardly the same as he had been when inaugurated.

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There was also justification beyond conspiracy theorizing or sexist denigration of women to question Clinton's health even before her recent pneumonia episode. In December 2012, while secretary of state, Clinton became dehydrated, fainted and banged her head, suffering a concussion. A month later, the State Department announced she was fully recovered and, as a joke, gave her a football helmet. Later, husband Bill Clinton said it took six months "of very serious work" to get her up and going.

Since then, there have been hints of something still amiss, and physicians have gone on record saying qualified experts should be allowed to examine something akin to the McCain survey.

Now, of course, we have all seen the video of her almost falling as she tries to get in a van after becoming dehydrated at a public event. It turns out she had earlier been told she had pneumonia -- not so awful if care is taken -- but decided she would be out and about, winning votes and keeping the diagnosis a secret.

The continuing concern about her well-being is still described by some as sexism having its merry way in the world, and why not? That's a favored liberal mode of argumentation -- to indulge in ad hominem bigotry on behalf of being against it and to argue by means of name-calling.

Clinton is a champion of this tactic, as she showed when she proudly proclaimed half of Donald Trump's supporters a "basket of deplorables" whose nature is best described as "racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic -- you name it."

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I am no Trump fan and sometimes wonder if his own medical records would show he suffers from upside-down brain syndrome. But I also know some of his supporters are decent, educated, intelligent people. And, at any rate, I do not believe the worried physicians out there are sexist.

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ABOUT THE WRITER

Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may email him at speaktojay@aol.com.

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