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Headache Hysteria

From the Scrapbook

Aug 1, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 43 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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The Scrapbook was amused last week when it was revealed that Republican representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota suffers from migraines and occasionally takes medication for them. Not amused by the migraines, of course—from which The Scrapbook occasionally suffers, too, and which are no fun—but by the fact that Bachmann’s rivals and detractors should have resorted to such a transparent, not to say sexist, device to undermine her presidential candidacy.

On the matter of migraines, at any rate, it didn’t work. The congresswoman was obliged to release a letter from the attending physician of the House, attesting to Bachmann’s good health and the fact that he and a neurologist had evaluated her and (as reported by Philip Rucker and Sandhya Somashekhar in the Washington Post) “found that the headaches were ‘infrequent’ and well controlled.” Translation: Like millions of Americans, Bachmann gets migraine headaches, but they would not interfere with her ability to serve in the White House. 

The next paragraph in the Rucker/Somashekhar story, however, is one of those passive-voiced/anonymously sourced/brow-furrowing cow patties that make the Post’s political reporting so interesting to follow: 

The assessment was issued in response to reports that surfaced this week in which former aides, quoted anonymously, said the attacks are frequently incapacitating, raising questions about whether Bachmann is fit to serve as commander in chief.

Note, please, that the initial report in the Daily Caller quoted former aides who were never identified, and who might or might not have ever witnessed Michele Bachmann in the throes of a migraine headache. That’s the beauty of anonymous sources: They can say anything they want about anything they like because there’s no way of verifying, or successfully refuting, what they’ve claimed. Would “former aides”—would anybody out there—have ulterior motives for “raising questions” about whether a presidential candidate “is fit to serve” as commander in chief? The question answers itself.

What truly amuses The Scrapbook, however, is the reaction within feminist ranks, and generally on the left, to this episode. There was none. Which is astonishing, considering the circumstances. Here you have a female candidate for president, a lawyer and three-term member of Congress doing very well in public opinion polls, who is suddenly assailed by unconfirmed reports from unidentified sources that she suffers from the vapors and, in the White House, might be collapsed on her divan when the red telephone rings. Suppose such an anonymous allegation had been made about the “health” of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, or House minority leader Nancy Pelosi. We can well imagine the uproar.

Indeed, we have witnessed many such uproars—and the Bachmann-migraine story reminded The Scrapbook of a minor episode in Washington history now 41 years old. In 1970, Dr. Edgar Berman, a prominent surgeon, author, humanitarian, and close friend of Hubert Humphrey, was sitting on a panel of the Democratic National Committee’s policy council when Representative Patsy Mink (D-Hawaii) declared that women’s rights should be the Democratic party’s “highest priority.” But Dr. Berman begged to differ—and went on to explain that the effects of “raging hormonal -influences” during menstruation and menopause should preclude women from senior executive positions in government. “All things being equal,” he concluded,

I would still rather have had a male JFK make the Cuban missile crisis decisions than a female of similar age who could possibly be subject to the curious mental aberrations of that age group.

As might be expected, Patsy Mink’s equilibrium was swiftly unbalanced, even raging, and after several days of protests from feminists and assorted Democrats, Dr. Berman was forced to resign from the DNC council—and with reason. Yet after reading all the whispers and doomsday scenarios and troubling blind quotes about Michele Bachmann and her headaches, The Scrapbook felt a certain nostalgia for the days, some four decades ago, when the left was quick to defend the right of a woman to seek the highest elective office in the land without scurrilous attacks on her biological fitness for command.

Carl Bernstein, Media Ethicist

There are three wars going on, a major bombing in Oslo, the Justice Department has been smuggling thousands of guns to foreign criminal gangs .  .  . oh, and the United States is about to default on its $14 trillion debt. 

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