Back in March 2009, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Democrat of Florida, revealed that for the last year, she had battled breast cancer. What surprised me, as a student of politics, was her ability to keep this information secret. Apparently, Rep. Wasserman had seven major surgeries, including a double mastectomy and removal of her ovaries with out this information leaking out the the general public. Only in March of this year did she reveal her decisions to have such cancer-prone areas removed because of a genetic predisposition.
Rep. Wasserman, in her early 40s, said she didn’t release the news for a few reasons. “I really wanted to make sure that I could protect my children; they were 8 and 4.”
This story caught my attention because I know charismatic leaders have a powerful incentive to hide the bad news about their health. Reagan, for example, was quite hurt after he took a bullet…but he looked all cheerful and robust peaking out of his hospital window.
As a political scientist, I think I'm sort of offended by Wasserman’s suggestion that she kept her personal health a secret to protect her children.
I think this is largely a lie spoken to deceive the gullible. I’ve seen her on television and she’s pretty cold and ruthless with others. She’s very focused on her talking points. She also strikes me as an extremely angry person. Besides, at those ages, I don’t think the kids would really understand.
Based on what I know of other political leaders, I think it is safe to say that she kept her health problems a secret for primarily political reasons. Quite simply, news about her poor health would harm her fundraising and campaign activities. Some of her supporters, I imagine, would even suggest that she quit politics and devote herself to private matters. Given the severity of her health issues, I’m sure other healthier and younger candidates in her area would be a better investment for the time and resources of her political party. I know this may sound insenitive to those new to politics, but I’m certain that this is the calculation she was making herself…
The larger issue, for me, is media collusion with this secret-keeping. In the case of Sen. John Edwards, I think the media knew about his affair (his wife certainly did) but they kept it quiet because they did not want to interfere with a Democrat running for President…or to interfere with the impact of Edwards’ endorsement of Obama.
The main point I would like to make…for the journalists who read this…is that not disclosing a politician’s health strengthens their political power. Keeping health issues a secret is not a value-neutral decision…it directly impacts the leader’s influence and longevity in politics. It is a secret that impacts the sub-leaders competing for power, sub-leaders who are always part of the charismatic leader’s decision-making.
At any rate, I’m here because I feel I have a temporary mission to share what I know about politics and economics…at a time when I believe our nation is in grave danger. The more people understand about how charismatic leaders create winning images for themselves...the safer we will be.
Geoffrey Perret, There's a War to Be Won
3 hours ago