So what’s the big deal? It’s not that Clinton has pneumonia. It’s that the campaign didn’t announce it when she was diagnosed on Friday, and did so Sunday only when forced by circumstances — she fell ill in Manhattan at a ceremony marking the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and had to be spirited away to recover at her daughter’s home. Overheated and dehydrated was the initial word, followed hours later by the truth.
Or what seems to be the truth. Which is where the problem arises. Judging by the polling, this is Clinton's race to lose, and the mishandling of her diagnosis and illness indicates that she is entirely capable of doing just that.
People get sick. Candidates get sick. Presidents get sick. And they usually recover. What is more difficult is recovering public confidence.
The right wing already has been pushing a conspiracy theory that Clinton is too ill to be president. Hiding her pneumonia puts winds in those sails. People distrust Clinton, and failing to come clean on her diagnosis in a timely manner only accents that political weakness.
This isn’t to say that people should rethink, or reject, voting for Clinton because of her chronic embrace of secrecy. An ailing Clinton is still, hands down, a better alternative to Trump, who has his own secrecy issues — where are those tax returns? Where’s the full physical report from a credible doctor?
The issue for voters is to decide who is better equipped to lead the nation, and the free world, amid an unending crisis in the Middle East, an increasingly dangerous North Korean nuclear weapons program, a resurgent China, debilitating income inequality at home and a Congress so divided it has essentially ceased to function as a legislative body.
Add a wild card like President Trump to that deck and who knows in what direction the world would go. At the very least, his win would make undeniable the domestic political rise of xenophobia, racial and ethnic divisiveness, and anti-intellectualism, with unforeseen effects on everything from daily discourse at home to a potential recalibration of alliances in the international community.
It’s an era fraught with difficult issues. The Clinton staff is filled with seasoned pros, which makes it all the more perplexing why they screwed up on such a fundamental issue as timely disclosure of the diagnosed illness of someone who wants to occupy the White House.
That is a political error of unknowable consequence in a campaign that could well turn on which candidate gets the most votes in an electorate that by and large would rather have neither.
Trump and Clinton supporters are unlikely to be persuaded to change their minds, particularly over an issue like this. If anything, it cements beliefs inside the opposing voting blocs. So the fight is over those who still aren’t certain. Keeping the pneumonia diagnosis under wraps gives those uncertain voters another reason not to vote for Clinton at a critical time in the campaign — some states begin early voting in a couple of weeks.
This is not the time for unforced errors. Clinton, who is running primarily on her experience, should know that.