Despite huge advances in technology, medical students are still taught Dr. Theodore Woodward’s 1940’s aphorism, “When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses not zebras.” As a University of Maryland professor, his point was to look for the most plausible diagnosis first rather than casting around for exotic answers. In other words, when I can’t find my keys it is much more likely that I carelessly put them down than that a miscreant came into my apartment and, leaving everything else untouched, took them.
This saying came to mind when I read an article trying to explain why the advanced age of Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was not an issue this election season. This is in sharp contrast to the positive focus on Obama’s youth and how it appealed to younger voters in 2008 and 2012. Of course, two younger men, Cruz and Rubio, are running in the Republican race.
Raise your hand if the first explanation that comes to your mind is that the media shills for liberalism. In other words, if the Democrat front-runners were young and the Republican front-runners were older, we’d be reading plenty of articles questioning the appeal of (white) older candidates. However, right now, mentioning Donald Trump’s age cannot be done without the obvious comparison to Clinton and Sanders. Of the three older candidates, Hillary’s health history seems to raise the most questions. Not surprisingly, the issue is off the table.
I read a Wall Street Journal article questioning why the age of the candidates isn’t being discussed. Amazingly, the partisan explanation I just posited wasn’t even mentioned. Instead, three reasons were advanced: The vigor of the candidates, new science showing that chronological age isn’t a predictor of vitality and the multitude of aging Baby Boomers. In other words, think zebras not horses.
A day after this article ran, Nancy Reagan died. The words charming and elegant were oft-repeated by reporters and politicians. Bernie Sanders said she had, “a good heart.” I don’t remember those accolades filling the press when her husband was president. Instead we heard accusations of spending too much money on dishes for the White House, although the money was raised from private parties. Somehow, taxpayer money being spent by Michelle Obama on staffing and Marie Antoinette style vacations isn’t newsworthy. Obviously, one would have to be racist to bring that up. I remember talk of Nancy Reagan’s enjoyment of astrology and suggestions that the occult was influencing the Reagan White House. The press saw that as fair game. Yet when Hillary Clinton was castigated for working in secret on public health policy, the only explanation liberals could hear for conservative angst was discomfort with powerful women.
CNN ran an amazing program after last Thursday’s Democrat debate. It analyzed the Kennedy-Nixon race of 1960. The program was incredibly honest about dirty tricks that the Kennedy family and staff pulled to get the Democratic nomination away from Hubert Humphrey, such as disseminating anti-Catholic material and claiming that it came from Humphrey’s campaign. The program also highlighted the outright fraud in Illinois that possibly clinched the election for Kennedy. In a connection I had not previously made, they linked Nixon’s decision not to contest the election to his acquiescence in Watergate. Rewriting the past is always intriguing, but had he contested the election, history would certainly be different and perhaps JFK would have, like Nancy Reagan, lived to a venerable old age.
Democrats don’t corner the market on corrupt behavior, but the press, Hollywood and academia definitely shine a brighter, and often distorted light, on Republicans. Romney, the gentleman loser, was unforgivably unprepared for the vitriol, accusations and unfairness of the attacks against him. He functioned in a rational and fair world where hoofbeats suggest horses. No candidate who makes the same glaring error can succeed.