Former First Lady Edith Wilson feared that history would repeat itself. Twenty-four years after leaving the White House, she returned to mark the beginning of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's fourth term. Noting the President's appearance, Mrs. Wilson told Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins that "he looks exactly as my husband did when he went into his decline." "Don't say that to another soul," responded Secretary Perkins, "he has a great and terrible job to do and he's got to do it even if it kills him." In three months it did.
When the President of the United States is seriously ill, no response is without potential consequences. Such an event may spark tremors on Wall Street, uncertainty within NATO, and unwelcome attention from the nation's enemies.
Today, managing a president's health is not just a medical challenge, but a delicate public relations issue. Since President Dwight D. Eisenhower's heart attack in 1955, television has been both an observer of and a participant in the health crises of our presidents.
As the presidential election of 1996 passes into history, some critical issues remain undecided:
- What specific steps might be taken to certify the health of those who would be president?
- Do our presidents actually get the best medical care available?
- Since the 25th Amendment has never been tested, how do we know it will work?