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Globe and Mail columnist John Ibbitson.
Globe and Mail columnist John Ibbitson.

JOHN IBBITSON

Boomers Clinton and Trump have lost all right to privacy over their bodies Add to ...

The Clintons’ secretiveness has been always their undoing. The Democratic presidential candidate fell ill with pneumonia. The campaign, typically, tried to hide it. She swooned and almost collapsed at the 9/11 memorial service Sunday. Now she could lose the election.

Which demonstrates, among many other things, the folly of allowing the baby boomers a second chance at presidential power.

Related: What is pneumonia? A primer on Clinton and the politics of running while sick

This bout with pneumonia – and are we absolutely certain that’s all it is? – renders legitimate what was, until now, a ridiculous conspiracy theory pushed by the Republicans: that Ms. Clinton is gravely ill, perhaps not mentally competent, and therefore unfit to lead.

This is infuriating. Donald Trump is the most – how shall we say it? – heavy-set presidential nominee in decades. He would be the oldest president ever to assume office. His diet is reportedly replete with junk food; there is no public evidence he regularly exercises, and if past behaviour is a benchmark for mental competence, it’s not the Democratic candidate we should be looking at.

But the Clintons have earned a reputation, deserved or not, for skating along the edge of truth while saying no more – actually, considerably less – than they need to. Ms. Clinton has been keeping a low profile since the Democratic National Convention in July. She avoids the press. She wears sunglasses a lot.

And now, in a rare public appearance, she had to be practically carried to her SUV, and has cancelled campaign appearances for several days. This is not good at all.

Monday night in a phone interview on CNN, Ms. Clinton said she did not notify the public of her pneumonia because she didn't think her condition “was going to be that big a deal.”

The health issue highlights a point that has rarely, if ever, been remarked upon in this campaign. In most countries, including the United States, the baby boomers have relinquished power to the Gen-Xers. Bill Clinton to Barack Obama; Stephen Harper to Justin Trudeau; Gordon Brown/Tony Blair to David Cameron.

But now, with typical selfishness, the boomers have decided they want to own the White House a second time. They should have let go. Their generation is on the wane. It would have been better had both parties chosen someone younger.

But this is what we have. And a campaign that should be about whether America wants to preserve its tradition of democratic moderation or descend into populist nativism has instead become fixated on Hillary’s health.

So: two things. Both sides should immediately agree to have their candidate vetted by an independent medical team and the results publicly released. In this case, both Mr. Trump – by deliberately making health an issue – and Ms. Clinton – by inadvertently doing the same – have lost all right to privacy over their bodies.

Even if Ms. Clinton isn’t in the best of health, voters may choose to support her regardless. Ronald Reagan’s age and mental acuity were an issue in the 1984 campaign, but he won in a landslide. Dwight Eisenhower suffered a heart attack in 1955, and voters decided the next year that they still preferred him to Adlai Stevenson. Anyone who looked carefully at the photos in 1944 would have noticed that Franklin Roosevelt was weakening, but the voters gave him a fourth term nonetheless.

A reasonable voter might well decide that a weakened Hillary Clinton is still vastly preferable to a hale Donald Trump. But that voter deserves to know the truth.

Second, those voters should wait until the presidential debates before rendering judgment on this issue. The candidates will confront each other for 90 minutes on Sept. 26, Oct. 9 and Oct. 19, giving the layman electorate its own chance to decide who is fit – mentally, physically and temperamentally – to lead.

But this must be said: Anyone who has been confident up till now that nothing could ever convince voters to make Donald Trump president should be confident no longer. This is a new, frightening, game.

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Follow on Twitter: @JohnIbbitson

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