Health Conscious

Thepolitics of illness is particularly sensitive in this election, with somany candidates and their spouses battling one disease or another. FredThompson announced in April that he had been diagnosed with lymphoma but that the cancer was in remission. Before that, Elizabeth Edwards revealed that her cancer had returned but that her husband’s campaign wouldcontinue. And now Rudy Giuliani, pushing his health-care plan in NewHampshire, is rolling out a new radio ad discussing his experience with prostate cancer, which he defeated in 2000.

“Ihad prostate cancer, five, six years ago,” Giuliani says in the spot.”My chance of surviving prostate cancer, and thank God I was cured ofit, in the United States, 82 percent. My chances of surviving prostatecancer in England, only 44 percent under socialized medicine.”

Itfeels icky to discuss life-threatening illnesses in PR terms, but it’sno accident that Rudy chose to weave his own story into his messageabout health care. We’re used to seeing warrior Rudy, victory this andsecurity that. We’re not used to seeing vulnerable Rudy.

Ofcourse, there’s good vulnerable and there’s bad vulnerable. InThompson’s case, people initially wondered if he would be able tolaunch his campaign. In Edwards’ case, allies speculated that he woulddrop out. But Rudy’s case is—forgive me for saying it—a good one, atleast from the political angle. For one thing, he beat the cancer.(Look out, Islamofascism.) But more importantly, it softens him up. AsElizabeth Edwards might say , he has stared the worst in the face and not blinked.

Thissort of human touch—candid without being cheesy—is just what Rudyneeds. For him, religion is private, and the same seems to be true forother personal and emotional issues. But personal narratives matter tovoters. We know he’s willing to put people in a hospital. It’s alsogood to know he’s been there himself.