She didn’t want to say she was sick.
Hillary Clinton, that is, who recently has suffered coughing fits followed Sunday by a near collapse during New York’s 9/11 memorial ceremony. She left the ceremony early, claiming over-heatedness, and appeared to weave, lose her footing and pitch forward as she approached her car, as captured on a mobile phone video.
Later in the day, Clinton’s campaign announced that the Democratic candidate has pneumonia.
Most by now are familiar with the fallout – speculation about her health, concerns about her “transparency” in not reporting her illness sooner – all amid the furor over Clinton’s weird comment at a fundraiser about half of Donald Trump’s followers belonging in a “basket of deplorables.”
Other than being one of the strangest combination of words ever uttered, where did Clinton come up with such verbiage? Here’s the partial quote in question: “You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic – you name it.”
Since when does she like to use such words, which don’t sound at all like Clinton? She’s too studied and cautious to randomly toss out a phrase that, in addition to being offensive and inevitably problematic, has a somewhat poetic edge. A-tisket, a tasket, are those deplorables in your basket?
Perhaps, the phrase, certain to become a campaign metaphor for “Uh-oh,” evolved during a brainstorming session with folks who wouldn’t dare censor their boss: Basket of deplorables, hilarious! OMG, you should use that!
Clinton’s basket may as well have been delivered to Trump with a bottle of champagne and a bow. As she began apologizing for speaking too broadly about too many Americans – suffering the inevitable comparison to Mitt Romney’s 47 percent – Trump glided along the unfamiliar terrain of the high road.
Rather than harp on the already popular trope that Clinton isn’t physically strong enough to be president, he said he hopes she recovers soon so that they can meet in debate. About this, Trump didn’t have to feign sincerity, figuring he'll have a better shot at defeating Clinton than he would Joe Biden, Tim Kaine, or some other sudden substitute. But mainly, he calculates – or has been instructed – that attacking a woman when she’s literally down would get him nowhere.
Then again, it’s hardly necessary to point out Clinton’s physical frailties, temporary though they are, when the woman is so plainly suffering. Replay after replay shows the coughing fit and then the weave-and-bob of her 9/11 episode. Anchors and commentators hit auto-pundit to produce the question du jour: Can this woman handle the presidency? Please. This woman has a bad cold. She needs a rest. She'll be fine.
Another question also arose, at least in many women’s minds: Would anyone ask the same question about a man under similar circumstances? Here’s the more pertinent question: Why do women feel they can’t admit to being sick? You know the answer. It’s because women fear showing any sign of weakness lest others presume the worst – that she’s not as good as a man.
As the weaker sex, which is only true as concerns upper body muscle mass (about 40 percent less) and significantly less testosterone (hence less invading, marauding and pillaging), women tend to hide anything that might suggest “weaker sex.” This is absurd on its face, but it also happens to be true.
Thus, Clinton soldiered on, trying to keep to schedule despite feeling awful, and paid a high price for denial. Her silence about the pneumonia wasn’t so much a lack of transparency, as news gazers have extrapolated, as it was a valiant attempt to stay the course and preclude exactly what happened. People began to wonder about her health. Critics found it easy to conclude: She’s weak; she’s frail; she’s a woman, after all.
When did it become a liability to be sick, which all of us are from time to time? For women, it began when they entered the male-dominated workplace en masse a generation ago and worked twice as hard to be as good as a man. This likely is why Clinton would rather suffer in silence than endure further scrutiny about her ability to serve – a deplorable reality deserving of its own basket.
The writer is a columnist for The Washington Post.