Once, when my father was in West Virginia on police business, a man approached him and demanded to know about “rumors” that President Franklin Roosevelt was “crippled.” The man threatened to beat up my father or anyone who said F.D.R. was in a wheelchair.
My dad, a D.C. police detective, served on F.D.R.’s protective detail. (I have a picture of my father, in a fedora, guarding Roosevelt at a Senators baseball game, with the president standing up with the help of his braces to throw out the first pitch.)
Like others around Roosevelt, my dad kept a tight lip about the paralysis of the president, who did not want to seem weak. Dad assured the West Virginia ruffian that Roosevelt was “a fine, athletic man.”
In the days before TV and social media, the White House could suppress the fact that Roosevelt, who contracted polio when he was 39, could barely walk. With the help of a complicit press corps, a censoring Secret Service and a variety of ruses, F.D.R. was even able to campaign giving the impression that he was mobile.
But stealth about health is no longer possible, and the sooner President Biden’s team stops being in denial about that, the better off Democrats will be.
Jill Biden and his other advisers come up with ways to obscure signs of senescence — from shorter news conferences to almost zero print interviews to TV interviews mainly with fawning MSNBC anchors.
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