Thursday, April 9, 2009

Thoughts on the Florida Congresswoman Who Hid Her Cancer Surgeries

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.


mungo said...

It is your right to denigrate a representative and also to edumacate a few journos. Hell, I do the same thing in my blog. But your critique of Rep Wasserman Schulz smaks more of a gut feeling than of any evidence. As for media colusion; there are a trillion things more vital to the state of the world that journalists seem to give a fig about than some Florida congresswomans lack of reproductive organs.
What is more interesting is your writing style and that I almost forgot that you were talking about a Democrat here. Where is the beef? Then I thought about what that said about we as conservatives live with every day and what I was thinking in particular; that she had to be a Republican because no one makes those type of harsh observations about women in leadership posiions except journalists pushing the democratic/progressive propoganda marketing stereotypes of the 'Cruella DeVille Rep. (R)' that we are forced to tune down to the last iota of concern. Because everyone knows, "Its not that she is a target because she's a republican,its because she's a fascist war loving gun toting bible believing monster, so she couldn't just be a mom, or even a woman"
I know, its a straw man, but its one I read into the writing style itself as a reader of this propaganda for however this long. My whole life has been one of the shaping of public opinion through news reports and now its really really, time for a little push back on the media.
Thats my job, and as a political scientist and observer of journalism self defined role as 'watchdog' enshrined in the constitution, then you can see how this calls for a level of active participation on the part of journalism and the marketing of news. They are who they say we are, so by not allowing anyone to brand anything other than the way they market it, they are having a tough time struggling to define the new freedom movement in the Tea Parties as something other than amorphous. Because it takes time to form that kind of political organization. Not only from a political level, but from an organization level. It will take time to locate sources of funding and sort out levels of expertise. But the media will be expected to use the old playbook because they are so fully invested in the rotten system.

It has become so fully apparent to everyone of the tea parties that the incentive is to keep the incentives hidden for now, the initiatives and principle are more important of a more full throuted appeal for a continuation of the revolution of freedom encapsulated in the experiment of America. Theres something that just runs cold in every heart that is following the movement. A lot of anger is misdirected but another is the feeling of being sold out by everybody.
The journalists can't keep up with that. They have no desire to even see anything like it. Its the Frankenstien monster run amok in their back room. No Matter how many Golems they send out to defeat Her, this tree of Liberty only grows stronger. You might even trace it back to the selection of Sarah Palin and the media lynching of a decent white woman because of the pushed narrative being in danger. We saw people we knew were just like us being destroyed in front of our eyes and we have pretty much also seen the future of where we are going to be allowed to stand and it looks like the lifeboats are already being filled.
Anyway, I wish you the best for the future of your blog.

Gary said...

It doesn't surprise me that the Congresswoman would keep the medical issues quiet. I could think of a lot of good reasons to do so, some of which you've pointed out. However I would have to ask a couple of questions before I could make a judgment.

1) Was she up for reelection during the medical ordeal? If so, she should have gone public. This would be especially important if the outcome or likelihood of survival were uncertain.

2) Did it hurt her ability to effectively represent her constituents, and if so, for how long. Did she miss very many key votes and committee hearings? If so, she should have disclosed.

Finally it seems she is in a damned if she does, damned if she doesn't sort of situation. If she goes public and she is in the middle of a campeign then she risks being accused of using her illness for political purposes. If she keeps quiet then she is accused of keeping secrets.

I'm inclined to cut her some slack until reelection, then evaluate weather or not she will be able to effectively carry out her duties as a congresswoman.

Boomer Style said...

I am in total agreement with you and impressed, you covered all the bases. Very good. I too believe it was not for her children--like they live with her and don't know she is having surgeries like that??!! Hmm...and if she truly wanted to protect her children would she get into politics in the first place?

I agree with you, it was totally for her own self-interests, to keep her political post.

And, as a journalist, I am totally offended by people who call themselves reporters and do not report on these things. We, supposedly dedicate ourselves to being the fifth pillar of society--to be the watch dogs of people, places and things in power.

There aren't many reporters these days and the ones who do report these things get crucified.

Thanks for writing this. Refreshing.

Dawn Bonner
Editor in Chief

Anonymous said...

I'm a social & fiscal conservative and I gotta say i'm utterly appalled at this post.

Just because she is a representative doesn't mean she loses all right to privacy while going what can only be described as an awful & painful, but most definitely a deeply personal period in her life. I don't give a crap what her reasons are for keeping her personal health issues private - its her business & certainly none of yours Or anyone else's for that matter! And unless & until you can provide concrete evidence confirming that her health issue prevented her from doing her job (and i doubt you can otherwise you would've done it already) then for God sakes have just an ounce of compassion!

More importantly, i can't believe you'd be so arrogant & self-righteous as to assert your (now proven to be) baseless opinion upon an issue of women's health to which you will NEVER be capable of fully comprehending.

Shame on you sir. This was outrageously insensitive and completely out of line.

K said...

My grandmother died of ovarian cancer a few months ago, and no one even knew she was sick until three weeks before she died. Not even her own kids!

Perhaps Rep Wasserman had political incentives as well, but I don't blame her for not wanting to scare her kids. I know plenty of people who have battled cancer and didn't tell a soul.

I can tell you don't have kids.

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