Presidential candidates' maladies at a glance
Back pain would stop President Kennedy, shown with daughter Caroline in August 1963, from lifting his kids.
July 21st, 2011
08:45 PM ET

Presidential candidates' maladies at a glance

Much was made of U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann’s migraines this week, making her the latest in a long string of U.S. presidential candidates whose health has been put under a public microscope.

Candidates with far more life-threatening conditions have pressed on with their campaigns, and some have been elected. Here are some examples of politicians who dealt with serious (or reportedly serious) health issues during their presidential or vice presidential campaigns, with varying degrees of public awareness.

Franklin D. Roosevelt (president, 1933 to 1945)

Roosevelt’s paralysis in the legs at age 39 (officially from polio, though the diagnosis has been questioned) wasn't exactly a secret when he ran for president 11 years later. But he and the press didn't go out of their way to emphasize it. He was rarely photographed in his wheelchair, for example. He also got around with canes, leg braces and help from aides, and managed a type of walking by "using his hips to swing his atrophied legs forward," the University of Virginia’s Miller Center says in a Roosevelt profile.

Public appearances, such as one in which he "walked" to a podium in 1928 at the Democratic National Convention to nominate Alfred E. Smith for that party’s presidential nomination, "helped dispel rumors about his illness," the center's profile says.

Roosevelt was struggling with heart and circulatory problems as his third term concluded in 1944, but the World War II president sought re-election anyway. In April 1945, just months into his fourth term and weeks before Germany surrendered, he died of a cerebral hemorrhage.

Dwight D. Eisenhower (president, 1953 to 1961)

Two health episodes cast doubt on whether Eisenhower would seek re-election as his first term concluded. The first – a heart attack – happened in September 1955 at age 64 as he vacationed in Denver.

"For several months, as Eisenhower convalesced, the question was whether the president could run again," the Miller Center says in its Eisenhower profile. "But by the beginning of 1956, Eisenhower had resumed a full schedule, and his cardiologist announced that the president was capable of serving a second term."

But in May 1956 – just months before the election, he was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, or ileitis, and the following month had surgery. The incident "cast momentary doubt on Eisenhower's candidacy, but a routine recovery from three-hour surgery … relieved public apprehensions," The New York Times said in Eisenhower's obituary years later.

He was re-elected, but in November 1957 suffered a mild stroke that for weeks gave him speaking difficulties. He finished his term without any more major health incidents and died in March 1969, eight years after leaving the White House.

John F. Kennedy (president, 1961 to 1963)

Kennedy projected an image of vigor, but he was chronically ill from childhood. His poor health - back problems and Addison’s disease, among other things - caused him to have one of the worst attendance records in Congress, where he served before his 1960 election to the presidency, according to the Miller Center.

"He relied on a steady stream of painkillers and steroids to treat the symptoms of his many ailments," the center's profile on Kennedy says. "Constant back pain would prevent him from lifting even his own small children."

Thomas Eagleton (vice presidential nominee in 1972)

Eagleton, a U.S. senator from Missouri, was the Democrats' vice presidential nominee for less than three weeks in 1972. The reason for the brevity of his stint on George McGovern's ticket: Eagleton was dogged by questions about his treatment for depression.

Addressing rumors of past hospitalizations, Eagleton, after his July 1972 selection, "told reporters that he had been treated and had been treated for ‘nervous exhaustion,'" The New York Times reported decades later in Eagleton's obituary.

"But in response to questions, he acknowledged that the treatment had included psychiatric counseling and electric shocks," the Times reported.

McGovern, who has written that Eagleton told his campaign that nothing in his background would bring trouble, dumped Eagleton in favor of Sargent Shriver. McGovern lost to incumbent Richard Nixon, and Eagleton, then in his first term in the Senate, continued as senator until 1987.

Paul Tsongas (presidential candidate in 1992)

After the Massachusetts politician left the U.S. Senate in the mid-1980s to fight lymphoma, he ran for the 1992 Democratic presidential nomination, saying he was cancer-free.

He won the first primary, in New Hampshire, but took only five more states and lost the nomination to Bill Clinton. In April 1992, Tsongas acknowledged that he’d been treated for a recurrence of his cancer in 1987, though he’d said previously that he’d been without cancer since 1986, according to The New York Times.

In December 1992, he announced that he’d been diagnosed with another type of lymphoma. In January 1997 – days before his term as president would have ended – he died after developing pneumonia and fighting a liver problem related to his cancer treatments, according to the Times.

John McCain (presidential candidate in 2000 and 2008)

Age was one issue McCain had to address when he ran for president in 2008. At 72, he would have been the oldest man sworn in for a first term. Another was his medical history: He is a skin cancer survivor.

To allay concerns, the U.S. senator from Arizona released more than 1,100 pages of his medical records to reporters. And his personal physician, Dr. John Eckstein, released a letter saying there is no medical reason "that would preclude McCain from fulfilling all the duties and obligations of the president of the United States."

Still, in a CNN/ORC International Poll released in October 2008, 47% of respondents said they were concerned that McCain would not finish a four-year term as president in good health.

McCain, who won the Republican nomination but lost to Barack Obama in the 2008 general election, won his fifth Senate term last year.

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Filed under: Politics
soundoff (132 Responses)
  1. Blackocrat

    Racism is another malady that CNN forgot to mention. How it is that so many descendants of slaves came to own their own churches exclusively recruiting democrats is anyones guess, but there it is. And how the first "black" president descended from Arab-African slave masters instead of from among "his own people" is a fact, and is most peculiar.

    July 22, 2011 at 6:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Goro

      It must be serious. Sounds like you're struggling with racism yourself.

      July 22, 2011 at 7:39 am | Report abuse |
    • saf65

      I cannot figure out exactly what point you are trying to make–but the point I'd like to make here is that race should not be a factor. The color of one's skin has nothing at all to do with anything, not with leadership, not with intelligence, nothing at all. Are you a racist yourself? Again, what is peculiar is your comment!

      July 22, 2011 at 8:25 am | Report abuse |
    • jim

      You need to get a life (unless, of course, "the man" is keeping you from reaching your full potential). You are truly pathetic!!!

      July 22, 2011 at 8:41 am | Report abuse |
  2. Republiwhite

    Yet you would invest your money in the war market, Joey. Hoping that the suffering of others will pay big dividends. It's not like you owe them that investment, Joey. So why give them your money?

    July 22, 2011 at 6:39 am | Report abuse |
    • michaelfury

      July 22, 2011 at 7:42 am | Report abuse |
  3. Gayocrat

    It's not like they are "hated" for spreading AIDS eight-hundred times as much as the average citizen. (a statistic) So why would we want to give them our marriage certificates. And what about divorce? Gays who went to Boston and got married, came back home to Montana, got caught cheating on their "wives" who now want a divorce, are STUCK. montana and most other states do not recognize the marriage, and so cannot grant divorces. And they can't get divorced in Boston unless they are citizens of MA. Stuck, not in a meaningless marriage, but stuck in a meaningless "marriage", rather. That's gotta suck.

    July 22, 2011 at 6:55 am | Report abuse |
  4. Gayocrat

    They demanded marriage, but forgot to mention divorce. How short-sighted is THAT.

    July 22, 2011 at 7:00 am | Report abuse |
  5. Stephanie Palmer

    Your article says that Bachmann is one in a long line, but that's not quite true. You feature a picture of Kennedy, there's no similarity there since the public didn't know about the Addison's disease. Bachmann's biggest problem is that she wants US law to conform with her religious beliefs. The woman is not the Christian she claims to be and would leave the poor and elderly to fend for themselves. That's her problem.

    July 22, 2011 at 7:05 am | Report abuse |
    • Evan

      The problem with people like you is that you rather think emotionally than logically. With what money does the govt have to even aid the poor and elderly. Infact I wouldn't mind in the future for some of our taxpayer money helping out the poor if we weren't in such much debt. No, our citizens has to learn that whatever job or decision they make, expect the consequences behind it. The govt has to stop putting their hands in every issue and let the religous and 3rd party sect do the work.

      July 22, 2011 at 7:17 am | Report abuse |
    • jim

      @Evan The problem with you is that you seem incapable of writing a coherent sentence. I hope your thoughts are not as jumbled as your writing.

      July 22, 2011 at 8:48 am | Report abuse |
  6. Dr. C. Evrett Koop (Surgeons General when AIDS was discovered)

    It's not surprising really...that gays are short-sighted to the point that divorce certificates were overlooked. Back in the 1980s when the AIDS epidemic broke-out of San Francisco, (the first several dozen cases were all gay men from that area) it became painfully obvious that risky lifestyle choices could kill you. Yet even some 30 years later, here they are making those same old choices, and dying like flies. This is a true example of gay's shortsightedness. Divorce was just something that they simply forgot to mention.

    July 22, 2011 at 7:13 am | Report abuse |
  7. Roy

    Some of you just enjoy sitting back and complaining about any and everything that does not favor your idiot way of thinking...What a waste.!!!!

    July 22, 2011 at 7:20 am | Report abuse |
    • jim

      And how does your idiotic complaint differ from the ones that so greatly offend you?

      July 22, 2011 at 8:51 am | Report abuse |
  8. Dr. C. Evrett Koop (Surgeons General when AIDS was discovered)

    @Roy. What did you add? Another complaint. Now, where was I....oh, yeah. (ahem) Shortly after the first American diagnosed with AIDS turned out to be a gay man from San Fransico, I was awarded funding and mandated by then President Reagan to assymble a team of experts and investigate. Our investigation concluded that there would never be a "cure" (we can't even cure the common cold[virus] and have given-up even trying to anymore) and that wearing a condom did NOT help to prevent the spread of AIDS, even in the slightest. Reagan ordered me to go on national TV and lie to you folks...tell you that condoms helped. I refused and was replaced by this gal that would, did, and most of you still believe her lie. And is one big reason that AIDS is now pandemic worldwide.

    July 22, 2011 at 7:40 am | Report abuse |
  9. Joey Isotta-Fraschini

    @ Republiwhite, 6:39 AM:
    I do not see human suffering as the goal of war.
    I see war as a natural manifestation of the human survival instinct, and therefore as a part of evolution.
    As for my aspiration to more lucrative investments than the necessarily safe ones that I have, I am not concerned with the origin of money.
    My money could even come from Christianity, for all I care, and I would still enjoy the money, in spite of all the human suffering caused by Christianity.

    July 22, 2011 at 7:42 am | Report abuse |
  10. Boscoe

    The Kennedy's were always careful to hide their flaws behind lies. JFK, who would be dead in two weeks without his meds and morphine was portrayed as the epitome of good health. Adultery, cheating in school, murdering young girls, and ties with the mob were all concealed from the idiotic and riffraffian public at large. The Kennedy's were white trash, albeit with lots of ill gotten money.

    July 22, 2011 at 7:44 am | Report abuse |
    • jim

      Wasn't it great getting that out of your system?

      July 22, 2011 at 8:53 am | Report abuse |
  11. michaelfury

    July 22, 2011 at 7:45 am | Report abuse |
  12. Dr. C. Evrett Koop (Surgeons General when AIDS was discovered)

    Most people are under the dillusion that AIDS is somehow leveling off...that not that many people are dying from it each day now. Nothing could be further from the truth. To illustrate, most people, while understanding that missing children are a big problem, are very surprised when they learn that, according to the FBI, over 2,100 children go missing each and every day here in the US. (IMAGINE THE WORLDWIDE TALLY) And so it is with AIDS. If the true number of victims were reported, you would freak-out. And if that number included not just the victims but also the volunteers(those who make risky lifestyle choices/hang around high-risk groups) half of you would faint! (mostly democrats. he he)

    July 22, 2011 at 7:54 am | Report abuse |
    • saf65

      Sure, "Dr. Koop". Where the heck do you get your statistics or do you just make them up? Perhaps you think you are coming across as intelligent, but believe me, you don't come across as an informed individual. You are spouting off about something you apparently know little about!!

      July 22, 2011 at 8:31 am | Report abuse |
  13. Dr. C. Evrett Koop (Surgeons General when AIDS was discovered)

    The way in which we go about reporting the severity of EQs is another example. You would freak-out to learn that a magnitude 1,009,096,082,754 point 9 hit, so they call it an 8.9 on the Richter scale. You think that a 9 is only 3 bigger than a 6. You think that a few children go missing. You don't even think about Aids anymore.

    July 22, 2011 at 8:05 am | Report abuse |
  14. Joey Isotta-Fraschini

    AIDS (HIV) is hard to get. One has to work for it.
    I know people with HIV. They will probably never have AIDS because their HIV is controlled.

    July 22, 2011 at 8:13 am | Report abuse |
  15. smc

    "Much was made of U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann’s migraines this week." By whom???? Most of us don't want to hear anything more about her. Even worse if she has serious migraines – everyone I know who has them is dysfunctional for a significant portion of the week. Not something I want in a President.

    July 22, 2011 at 8:20 am | Report abuse |
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