Wednesday, April 2, 2008

What about candidates’ mental health?


Before joining the federal payroll, thousands of U.S. government civilian employees and military enlistees are required to pass health and intelligence tests and, in many cases, pass lie detector tests.

Yet, the president of the United States is only required to be a natural-born citizen, to be at least 35 years old and have resided in the United States for at least 14 years. No tests required.

This despite the president's incomprehensibly awesome power—appointing the nation's highest military and civilian officials; commanding the armed forces; shaping foreign policy; declaring war; pardoning criminals; holding the most sensitive secrets of the land; causing panic or a boom on Wall Street with a few words; determining the health of the environment; selecting a vice president who would succeed him (or her) on death or disability.

Those occasional health reports that the president releases aren't mandatory, and the public doesn't know whether results are complete.

Hillary Clinton and John McCain have unwittingly revived a heretofore taboo subject—whether emotional or mental tests should be required of presidential candidates.

Did Hillary Clinton at least three times repeat a lie about ducking nonexistent sniper fire in Bosnia to create the image of a war-toughened presidential candidate? Or does she have hallucinations of imminent personal danger?

How worrisome is McCain's notorious, volcanic temper? Longtime Senate Republican colleague Sen. Thad Cochran was moved to say, "The thought of (McCain) being president sends a chill down my spine. He's erratic. He is hotheaded. He loses his temper and he worries me." McCain dismisses his temper as confined to questions of Washington waste, although many a reporter and politicians who disagree with him have endured his rages. Published life stories of McCain include the anecdote that "as a child, when he got angry, McCain would hold his breath until he blacked out." His midshipman years at Annapolis also were known for his stormy behavior.

Only once has a candidate's mental fitness in a modern-day presidential election become an issue. Sen. Tom Eagleton was dropped as Sen. George McGovern's 1972 running mate when he confirmed he'd had electroshock treatments for depression.

The only safeguard against a president's breakdown is the Constitution's 25th Amendment, which empowers the vice president and senior cabinet officials to declare a president unfit to continue office temporarily.

But triggering that cumbersome procedure would be too late if a tempestuous president suddenly imagined a threat to the nation and brought the world to the edge of calamitous panic with an angry outburst hinting at armed retaliation.




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