Hillary Clinton kept her pneumonia diagnosis under wraps for two days because she “didn’t think it was going to be that big a deal.” Right. That’s what she used to say about her private email server.Yes, I know Clinton’s email server is an obsession that her rivals on the right will not let go. Fear and loathing motivate great political fundraising. But as I have written before, the former secretary of state knew that she and her ex-president husband had an abundance of political enemies before she gave them more ammunition to use against her.What irritated me most about the news that Clinton really was ill with pneumonia, forcing her to leave the Sept. 11 memorial ceremony in New York early, is how it gave a moment of undeserved “I told you so” satisfaction to the industry of conspiracy theorists.Even WikiLeaks appeared to be taking sides on Sunday, posting a poll that asked users to speculate about the cause of Clinton’s “collapse.” The poll, which WikiLeaks later deleted, looked to seasoned political eyes like a push poll, a legal but unethical practice of writing a poll not to measure public opinion but to sway voters with loaded or manipulative questions that help to spread negative rumors.For months, various conservative cable TV and internet conspiracy theorists have been alleging that the former first lady has Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy or dementia, which she is covering up with the help of a look-alike stand-in and a Secret Service agent who actually is a doctor and a hypnotist.Like most conspiracy theories, all of this is going to make a really cool horror movie someday, but it has no basis in the real world.More troubling for Clinton’s supporters is the behavior pattern of which her pneumonia cover-up is only the latest example. David Axelrod, director of the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics, captured it well in a Monday morning tweet: “Antibiotics can take care of pneumonia. What’s the cure for an unhealthy penchant for privacy that repeatedly creates unnecessary problems?”Axelrod, who helped President Barack Obama beat Clinton to the Democratic nomination in 2008, understands how Team Clinton has plenty of right-wing critics and conspiracies to be paranoid about. But that’s an excellent reason to be more transparent, not less.Unfortunately, transparency is the opposite reflex to what Mrs. Clinton has been inclined to do. Clinton aides who derided reporters’ health questions were admitting on Sunday that they should have let the world in on her health problems sooner.Ironically, Clinton, once a young staffer on the House Judiciary Committee that was weighing President Richard Nixon’s possible impeachment, has taken on a Nixonian tendency toward self-destructive obsessions with privacy.Although her critics try to call her lazy when she doesn’t do enough and a workaholic when she does a lot, one has to admire her “stamina,” which has been challenged by Trump in his characteristic schoolyard bully fashion.Yet one has to wonder how much her illness had to do with her other big stumble of the weekend. On Friday she said at a fundraiser that “half” of Trump’s supporters belonged in a “basket of deplorables” that were “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic you name it.”She was talking about the white nationalist and alt-right faction of Trump’s supporters to which Trump has given little objection and a bonanza of publicity. Although she later retracted one crucial word, “half,” from her statement, she did point out that many Trump supporters “feel the government has let them down,” adding, “Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well.”Nice try. Clinton obviously was trying to separate the right’s racist-sexist factions from the persuadable mainstream. Trump countered by treating Clinton’s critique as “hatred in her heart for … working-class Americans.”It’s hard to say that Clinton’s illness led to her less-than-artful statement, which reopened charges that she’s too aloof about ordinary Americans. But it would be even harder to argue that it helped her.Clinton did catch a break on the health question thanks to the shortcomings of her opponent. Trump has been almost as reluctant to release his medical records as he has been about releasing his tax returns. Compared to him on both issues, Clinton has been a model of candor and accountability.Physical health is a legitimate issue as we voters judge candidates. But for reliable information we turn to the candidates and their doctors, not to rumor mills.Clarence Page is a nationally syndicated columnist and a member of the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board.
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