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Is there a doctor in the White House?

A few months ago, The New York Times columnist William Safire proposed that the Democratic and Republican parties establish a nonpartisan Candidate's Medical Review Board, which would evaluate the physical condition of presidential candidates and tell the public whether the aspiring office seekers were healthy enough to occupy the highest office in the land.

Safire made this suggestion after word got out that Paul Tsongas had not completely recovered from his 1986 bout with cancer--as had originally been claimed by Tsongas and his physicians. In reality, Tsongas had suffered a minor relapse eight months after a bone marrow transplant and undergone additional radiation treatment when the malignancy resurfaced. Safire felt the public has a right to know a candidate's true medical history, and that it should not have to wait until the candidate himself chooses to disclose all the particulars.

On the surface, Safire's suggestion has merit: None of us wants to turn over the White House keys to a potential stiff. But in reality, the proposed medical review board is fraught with possibilities for ideological discord, political intrigue, and even blackmail. For starters, Safire's suggestion was made before Ross Perot entered the race, and thus makes no provision for third-party medical checkups. If Safire expected the Democratic candidate to be examined by a Republican doctor, while the Republican candidate was examined by a Democratic doctor, who then would examine the independent candidate Perot? A Libertarian internist from Aspen, CO?

Safire's suggestion also betrays a shocking naivete about the medical profession. Many Americans prefer osteopaths to medical doctors and would demand at least one Republican and one Democratic osteopath on the review board, not to mention a couple of third-party chiropractors. Still others, Jerry Brown among them, feel much more comfortable among homeopathic acupuncturists than among mainstream physicians. Were Safire's review board ever set up, candidates such as Governor Moonbeam would be forced to succumb to a complete physical by a Republican physician with a name like Tennyson Carruthers. And George Bush would be legally required to strip to his skivvies and get the once-over from a leftist shaman named Wandering Spirit or True Coyote.

Safire also foolishly assumes that a nonpartisan board of physicians could reach a unanimous opinion about a candidate's health. This is pure hooey. It is a matter of public record that George Bush takes Halcion, Digoxin, Procainamide and Synthroid; the workaholic chief executive is a walking apothecary. It is also a matter of public record that the president suffers from a hyperactive thyroid, an irregular heartbeat, arthritis in his hips, and periodic gastroenteritis. Yet his personal physician, a Republican, insists he is in perfect health. A Democratic physician, assessing the same medical data, would probably rate the poor guy a basket case, and recommend early retirement--long before the election.

The idea of establishing a Candidate's Medical Review Board would get even more complicated if a woman ran for the White House. Suppose an incumbent female president became pregnant the year she was up for re-election. A male, GOP gynecologist would probably tell her to quit her job, go home, put her feet up and bake cookies. A female, Democratic gynecologist would probably tell her to have labor induced three weeks early so she wouldn't miss the Iowa caucuses.

The Candidate's Medical Review Board would also leave itself open to possibilities for blackmail. An unscrupulous Republican internist, upon discovering the true nature of Bill Clinton's allergies, could feed this confidential information to the Republican National Committee. In turn, the committee could plant dust mites in his hotel bed and position devastating floral displays near each of the podiums from which he delivers important national addresses. An unscrupulous Democratic sleep specialist might tell George Bush to take larger doses of Halcion, hoping the president would then appear even more incoherent than he normally does at speaking engagements. And whichever physician examined Ross Perot would possess a potentially ruinous piece of information: the little guy's real height, rumored to be in the same vicinity as Alan Ladd's and Gary Coleman's.

The most grievous failing in Safire's proposal is the erroneous supposition that good health is a precondition for a successful political career. This is nonsense. Had a Candidate's Medical Review Board existed in the time of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the greatest president of the 20th century would have been forced to step down and turn over the country to a bunch of guys named Alf and Wendell. For similar reasons, John Kennedy's back ailments and his problems with Addison's disease would have denied him the presidency, and us Camelot.

What can we learn from this? Simple. When running an unbelievably complex society such as this one, what matters most isn't a candidate's physical well-being but his mental well-being. This country doesn't need a bipartisan Candidate's Psychiatric Review Board. That is, a board of psychiatric experts who put the candidates on the couch and determine whether they are wrapped tightly enough to run the country. By making a pre-emptive psychiatric strike against the wackos on the hustings, the rest of us wouldn't have to suffer through any more Pat Robertsons, David Dukes, Jesse Jacksons or Jerry Browns. I'll for pay the couch myself.
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Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Comment; criticism of William Safire's suggestion that a nonpartisan Candidate's Medical Review Board be established to evaluate the health of presidential candidates
Author:Queenan, Joe
Publication:Chief Executive (U.S.)
Date:Sep 1, 1992
Previous Article:And then there were two.
Next Article:1992 Chief Executive of the Year.

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