It was certainly no secret that the popular Christie was grossly overweight and it’s altogether laudable that he would resort to a common weight-loss surgery when diets had consistently failed him.
Plans for the operation were kept from the public for three months. To further hide the preparations, the doctor visited Christie at home rather than have the instantly recognizable governor come to his office.
This kind of secrecy surrounding a senior elected official would be wrong in any case, but it’s especially wrong in a case like Christie’s, involving a figure of national political stature and a likely candidate for his party’s presidential nomination in 2016.
The United States has a long and dishonorable history of dishonesty about the health of its chief executives.
While President Ronald Reagan came close to dying in 1981 from massive bleeding from a gunshot wound, his aides were feeding the press stories about how the president was bantering with the surgeons. The fact that the bullet had lodged near the heart was kept from the public for days.
Conversely, Reagan may have saved many lives when his diagnosis of colon cancer undoubtedly convinced many Americans to undergo colonoscopies.
President Lyndon Johnson famously showed his scars from gall bladder surgery, but the public was never told that the surgery turned up a dangerous heart condition.
Had the public known the extent of President John F. Kennedy’s ailments, especially Addison’s disease, a deficiency of the adrenal glands, he may never have been elected president. His staff blamed all his ailments, including a deteriorating spine, on injuries suffered during the war, although even as a child he had been sickly.
Franklin D. Roosevelt’s polio was well known, although photos of him in a wheelchair were kept to a discreet minimum. But he also suffered from serious heart problems and high blood pressure, and was in no shape to run for a fourth term, wherein shortly after his inauguration he was felled by a massive stroke.
Late in 1919, Woodrow Wilson suffered a debilitating stroke that was kept from all but a tight inner circle. For the rest of his term, the country was run by his wife and his chief of staff.
The list goes on. Mercifully, keeping the president’s health a state secret, almost always for political reasons, is a thing of the past and Christie has learned an important lesson — or so one hopes.