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Why Hillary Clinton's health is now a real issue in the presidential campaign

Washington: Hillary Clinton’s health became a genuinely dominant issue in Election 2016 with the release on Sunday of an extraordinary video – of the Democratic candidate seemingly disoriented and collapsing after an unscheduled and hasty departure from a solemn September 11 memorial service in New York.

Shot near the 9/11 memorial plaza in lower Manhattan, the bystander’s video which was uploaded to Twitter, shows Clinton leaning woodenly on a security bollard – supported by an aid as a campaign vehicle pulls up to he curb.

Clinton: ‘Everytime I think about Trump…’

Battling back a stubborn cough while delivering her Labor Day rally speech, Clinton took jabs at her Republican opponent Donald Trump while on the trail in Cleveland, Ohio.

As a sliding, side door to the vehicle is opened, Clinton stumbles as several aids attempt to propel her into the vehicle – but she staggers from side to side several times. 

Clinton’s legs seemingly buckle, as she appears to lose bodily motor control.

As Clinton is assisted towards the vehicle, her legs give way. She stumbles, falling into the vehicle – at which point the video ends, with the candidate lost in a scrum of aids and security agents.

Dressed in a formal suit and wearing sunglasses, Clinton arrived at the ceremony at 8am – the temperature was about 28 degrees Celsius and humidity around 46 per cent. Her GOP rival Donald Trump attended – also in a formal suit – and attendees were required to stand for sometime in the absence of shade.

Confusion about Clinton’s condition was compounded by her campaign’s initial silence on her unexplained and unexpected departure “just” 90 minutes into the commemoration – “she felt overheated, so departed to go to her daughter’s apartment, and is feeling much better,” a statement said.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton waves after leaving her daughter's apartment on Sunday.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton waves after leaving her daughter’s apartment on Sunday. Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP

An unnamed security official told The Guardian: “she didn’t look great.” But his “all’s-well” claim that Clinton had “walked from the ceremony without support, got into a vehicle and was driven away,” was undercut by the onlooker’s video, which quickly ricocheted around the Internet and TV news.

The acute sensitivity of the issue was manifest in the campaign’s initial silence – more than an hour lapsed before it put out a brief, first statement. And in subsequent offerings, the word “just” in reference to Clinton having been at the event for 90 minutes had been deleted.

Hillary Clinton at the  September 11 memorial ceremony in New York.
Hillary Clinton at the September 11 memorial ceremony in New York. Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP

On such a day as Sunday was in New York, an aspiring president would need pressing reasons to simply get up and leave – before the cameras of the world. Whatever “overheating” might symptomise, the incident will feed into an already turbo-charged, Trump-fuelled internet campaign depicting Clinton as physically unfit for the presidency.

And it will be exacerbated by her flip treatment of an incident that might have stayed in or near the nether world of the conspiracy theorists, because of the remarkable video.

Hillary Clinton leaving the September 11 ceremony early.
Hillary Clinton leaving the September 11 ceremony early. Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP

Clinton retreated to her daughter Chelsea’s apartment in the nearby Flatiron district – from which she emerged at about 11.40am, telling reporters: “I’m feeling great …it’s a beautiful day in New York.”

And that’s the problem. If a presidential candidate is “feeling great” on a “beautiful day in New York” and the date is September 11, there is only one place for her to be – that’s at the memorial plaza in lower Manhattan for the duration of the commemoration.

Coming on top of another incident, in the previous weekend Clinton experienced a coughing-fit during a Labor Day rally in Cleveland, Ohio, her health likely will be a dominant campaign issue in the coming days – despite her having a clean bill of health from her doctors and because she did have a fainting incident in 2012, in which she suffered concussion and, later, a blood clot.

Trump regularly questions Clinton’s “strength and stamina” for the presidency and – never offering evidence – he often describes her as “exhausted” and sleeping too much. 

But it was Clinton who most recently enlivened the conspiracy theorists, with the September 2 release of the file on her FBI interviews regarding her controversial email server – she told the agents that she could not recall every briefing she had received in the wake of the 2012 fall and concussion.

Clinton attributes the recent coughing fit to seasonal allergies. In Cleveland she made light of the difficulty she had in getting through her speech by telling the audience – “every time I think of Trump I get allergic.”

And the following day she told to reporters that her allergies flared maybe twice a year – “I just upped my antihistamine load to try to break through it – it lasts a couple of days and then it disappears.”

Clinton and Trump have each issues letters from their doctors, claiming that they are in good health. But neither has gone any where near the lengths to which candidates Barack Obama and John McCain did in 2008, when the former released a 276-page report on his health and the latter published more than 1000 pages of his medical history.

The Clinton letter, written by Dr Lisa Bardack and released in July 2015, referred to the 2012 concussion, describing a blood clot in Clinton’s head and her double vision.

Bardack says that the symptoms had been resolved within two months. But Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton, inadvertently threw meat to the conspiracy theorists when he stated publicly that his wife “required six months of very serious work to get over” the concussion.

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