For a good while Hillary Clinton ignored the increasing drumbeat of weird conservative rumormongering and outright fabrications suggesting her health was failing. Then, Donald Trump himself began pushing that particular story, most notably in a Wisconsin speech (the one to an all-white rally in a nearly all-white Milwaukee suburb billed as an “appeal to black voters”) when he came right out and said HRC lacked the “physical and mental strength and stamina” to fight ISIS or violent crime.
So Clinton responded with sarcasm, inviting late-night talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel to take her pulse, and then accepting Kimmel’s challenge to open a pickle jar to show her strength.
It didn’t rank up there with her husband’s famous saxophone-playing moment on Arsenio Hall’s show in 1992, but Clinton’s response to the slurs on her health via the TV humor route made a lot of sense. You don’t want to get into an extended back-and-forth with your political opponents on the details of your health, particularly when people with instant media access — like the increasingly irresponsible Rudy Giuliani — don the engineer’s hat on the crazy train.
As to what is behind the Hillary Health meme, opinions vary. David Graham suggests it is a successor to the “birther” hysteria about Obama: an accusation that goes to a politician’s basic qualifications for office and which can never be 100 percent rebutted, particularly to the satisfaction of partisans who have a conspiracy-theory explanation for any contrary evidence. I’d say there is an additional element of pure malice, the hope that the moral afflictions conservatives attribute to Hillary Clinton will be manifested in a physical or mental disability that exposes her corruption for the whole world to see. This is not a new thing. Way back in the early 1960s, a right-wing protester in Dallas greeted then U.N. ambassador (and former two-time presidential nominee) Adlai Stevenson with the chant: “Stevenson’s going to die/His heart will stop stop stop/And he will burn burn burn.” Nice, eh?
I am sure that way out there in the fever swamps there is some theory of shadowy forces behind Hillary that are propping her up and that will actually run the country if she is elected president. No, it’s not particularly credible to view Tim Kaine as central to a plot to supplant the top of the ticket. But then we are not talking about rational allegations. And so it’s probably best that Clinton just laughed it all off with a twist of the cap on a pickle jar.