Jeff Jacoby

WHEN THE DAILY CALLER, a news site based in Washington, DC, reported last week that Michele Bachmann gets migraine headaches, it labored to give the impression that it was breaking an important story.

"Stress-related condition 'incapacitates' Bachmann; heavy pill use alleged," the foreboding headline read. (Cue the grim background music.) The article, by Jonathan Strong, depicted a woman who regularly crumples in the face of stress, reacting to the normal aggravations of political life -- a staffer's resignation, a missed flight -- with "medical episodes" that leave her "incapacitated" for days at a time. To cope, she "takes all sorts of pills. Prevention pills. Pills during the migraine. Pills after the migraine. . . . Pills wherever she goes." These "debilitating" migraines "occur once a week on average," and at least three times have landed Bachmann in the hospital. Her staff must "constantly" consult with doctors to "tweak" their boss's medication.

Bottom line? "Some close to Bachmann fear she won't be equal to the stress of the campaign" and some former aides "are terrified" by the thought of a migraine-prone President Bachmann.

All very melodramatic. But a few things were missing from Strong's account. Like the nature of all those "pills" that Bachmann supposedly takes -- addictive narcotics, or something more innocuous? And the identity of any of the unnamed "former aides" whose allegations the story recycles -- what candidates, if any, are they working for now? Missing too was any evidence that a migraine condition is incompatible with the pressures of the presidency or any other high-powered position.

That's because no such evidence exists.

The health of presidential candidates is of course a legitimate news topic. That's especially true since, to quote the historian Robert Dallek,"concealing one's true medical condition from the voting public is a time-honored tradition of the American presidency."

Gone are the days when a presidential candidate with severe medical problems could brazenly claim to be in excellent health and expect to get away with it. During and after the 1960 campaign, John F. Kennedy -- who suffered from Addison's disease, colitis, urinary tract infections, and the near-crippling pain of degenerative back problems -- took what Dallek called "an extraordinary variety of medications," including steroids, painkillers, antibiotics, and anti-spasmodics. Yet with the help of a friendly press, the Kennedy machine easily downplayed JFK's afflictions; The New York Times, quoting an article in a medical magazine, described him as being in "superb physical condition."


Jeff Jacoby

Jeff Jacoby is an Op-Ed writer for the Boston Globe, a radio political commentator, and a contributing columnist for Townhall.com.