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George W. Bush transferred power to his vice president, Dick Cheney, twice while in office
The eyeglass case and speech papers that saved Teddy Roosevelt’s life
disclosure of Kennedy’s health problems might have kept him from becoming president. But Dallek offers a different perspective about the health challenges facing political leaders. He said lethal cancer should prevent someone from running for president, but other health problems are not disqualifying. “Franklin Roosevelt was a paraplegic and he served there for 12 years. Now, Kennedy had all these health issues, and he did a fine job as president,” Dallek said. “You overcome challenges, disabilities. And that was true with Franklin Roosevelt, and it served FDR brilliantly in the presidency because people in the Depression thought he had recovered from his polio and now he’s the one to lead the country through a recovery, so psychologically it gave him a hold on the public that was really helpful.” Earlier presidents had capitalized on a similar reputation for overcoming physical challenges. Dickerson points to Andrew Jackson, “Old Hickory,” who famously walked around with two bullets lodged in his body from youthful du-
els and who regularly bled himself before going to bed at night. Theodore Roosevelt was sickly as a boy, for which he compensated by pursuing “the strenuous life.” Roosevelt, campaigning for president on the Bull Moose
Moose,” Roosevelt told his supporters, according to Smithsonian magazine. That bravado wasn’t enough on Election Day, when the frail Wilson beat both Roosevelt and the incumbent, William Howard Taft, who carried well more
first debate with his opponent, Walter Mondale, but recovered nicely in the next debate by joking that he would not exploit for political purposes his opponent’s “youth and inexperience.” Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in
Roosevelt survived an assassination attempt when a gunman’s bullet was slowed by a folded 50-page speech and an eyeglass case jammed in his coat pocket. ticket in 1912, survived an assassination attempt when a gunman’s bullet was slowed by a folded 50-page speech and an eyeglass case jammed in his coat pocket. The bullet ended up between two ribs, and Roosevelt, bleeding, insisted on going to an auditorium anyway to deliver his speech. “I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot but it takes more than that to kill a Bull
than 300 pounds on his frame and holds the title of America’s heaviest president. Reagan’s age, 69, was an issue during his bid for the presidency in 1980. But he appeared vigorous when he first took office, regularly lifted weights and rode horses on his ranch. He survived a nearly fatal gunshot wound in his chest in an assassination attempt early in his first time. Running for reelection in 1984, he appeared confused during the
1994. Journalists and historians and even Reagan’s son Ronald Jr. have speculated that he showed signs of the disease in his second term, when he was in his mid-70s. That remains a contentious topic, and many aides have insisted that Reagan did not have the disease while in office. The 25th Amendment provides for a transfer of power to the vice president if the president is incapacitated. Twice, in 2002 and 2007, President George W.
Bush invoked the amendment to transfer power to Vice President Dick Cheney while Bush underwent routine colonoscopies. The relinquishment of executive authority lasted only a couple of hours in each instance. Such situations point to another subtle change in American politics, said Nicole Hemmer, an assistant professor in presidential studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. She said vice presidents are more carefully vetted, and are more intimately involved with the operations of the government, than they were a century ago. That means a presidential succession due to illness or death is less likely to be a catastrophic disruption. And improved medical inventions gives a president a better shot at overcoming a health crisis, she said. “Candidates’ health matters more in terms of optics today than it used to, but less in terms of actual ability to hold the office,” she said.
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