IS A POLITICIAN’S ADDICTION STATUS ANY OF OUR BUSINESS?
- July 31, 2018
Political campaigns can get downright nasty. Whether it’s for president of the United States or a small-town mayor, you can bet that there will be mud-slinging and skeletons dragged out of closets. Hardly anything seems to be off limits, and sometimes candidates will make up flat-out lies about each other to influence the public. Is there anything sacred? Should anything be? Presumably, whether a candidate has a past with addiction would be just as private as any other medical information, but does the public have a right to know about a condition that might affect their performance?
If you watched the television show The West Wing in the early 2000s, you might recall a plot line where the president was running for re-election when it was revealed that he had multiple sclerosis. The public was outraged, claiming that they’d been lied to because he never disclosed it, and that they had a right to know that the president had a disease that might potentially affect his mental acuity.
On the one hand, when you voluntarily enter the public spotlight, your right to privacy is going to be balanced against the public interest. The president of the United States undergoes a physical every year, and the American people are usually provided with the results. However, there’s no law requiring this. It’s just become a matter of convention, and we aren’t always told everything that physical reveals. The 25th Amendment requires a written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, but there’s no actual guideline for what this means. It’s mostly something left up to the Vice President and Congress to decide, and not the American people. Woodrow Wilson had a stroke while in office that was never disclosed, and JFK had chronic back pain and an endocrine disorder called Addison’s disease that was kept a closely guarded secret.
Freedom of Information Act requests provide an exemption for “information that would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy of the individuals involved,” but the examples listed are related to social security numbers and home addresses, not medical records.
So, if no law applies one way or the other, does that mean our leaders can hide whatever they want? Some argue that we elect our officials to speak for us, and we want to make sure they are capable of making the best decisions. It can be a matter of trust as well, like with the West Wing example. If an individual could hide something that important from us, what else might they decide to lie about?
In the end, whether a public figure should be required to disclose drug or alcohol problems comes down to a moral question. If you believe that addiction is a choice that reflects poorly on an individual’s character, you’re probably going to fall on the side of feeling lied to. However, if you accept that addiction is a disease, it’s easier to understand why people might not want to discuss it. If the person in question is in recovery and not suffering from any long-term mental or physical ailments as a result, then what business is it of ours, really? Would you want to admit to everyone you meet that you have a chronic disease?
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