While serving as President, John F. Kennedy was asked, “How do you make good decisions when presented with huge amounts of information from your advisors who want you to approve their position on any given issue.” JFK’s answer was succinct and insightful. “I always ask, what am I not being told?”.
Two recent developments in Washington DC should be of deep concern to all Americans who care about transparency and openness in government and who are not getting answers to the question — what am I not being told?
One deeply concerning development was a decision by John Fetterman to voluntarily commit himself to a hospital to address chronic deep depression that he and others have publicly acknowledged is impacting the performance of his duties as a United States Senator from Pennsylvania. We now know depression has been a long-term issue for Senator Fetterman, made worse by a debilitating stroke he suffered on the campaign trail. We also know now that his inpatient hospital treatment may take up to a month without guarantee that it or other complications from his stroke may recur. Most concerning is the fact that he and many others, including his campaign staff, knew about his depression issues and stroke after- effects well before his election. Hiding truth simply to gain and keep power by intentional subterfuges is wrong and always will be.
The second deeply concerning development was the recent release of physical exam results for President Biden. That release did not include results from a cognitive examination or say if such an exam was even performed. We heard a much heralded “clean” bill of health for President Biden. But every president’s cognitive ability (or lack thereof) should also be a matter of transparency and openness.
Before I go any further, I want to address what I expect may be negative responses to this commentary.
I expect some may say I am insensitive to and uncaring about those who suffer from mental health issues. Not so. I spent nine long years watching my father slowly and steadily being ravaged by dementia. In his final years, he did not recognize me or remember me. As a result of his condition, I was forced to take his car from him and place him in an assisted living facility. Even toward the end of his life, he adamantly expressed his belief that he was doing fine and needed both his car and to stay in his home. It was challenging to stand firm in doing what was best for him; but it had to be done, and I did it, albeit with a very heavy heart.
I also expect some to say my concerns about Senator Fetterman and President Biden are driven by opposition to their political party affiliation and/or their progressive views on issues of the day. Not so. I had the same concerns with at least two conservative Republicans as well. One was Republican U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond. In his final years in the Senate, Thurmond was not in a condition physically or mentally to make good decisions.
The second was conservative icon and Republican President Ronald Reagan. In President Reagan’s twilight years in the White House, there was speculation (never fully confirmed) that he had early onset dementia. Regarding both men, I said then, as I say now, America is best served if any elected official or candidate who cannot perform well on a cognitive abilities test, should not run for office, or remain in office regardless of their political party affiliation, their popularity, or their positions on issues. What matters most is their ability to fully perform all the duties of the job they were elected to do.
I expect some may say I am advocating the premature removal from office of a President and/or a U.S. Senator. Not so. I am suggesting our political leaders have the courage to engage in candid dialogue and deliberations on these matters so they can make informed decisions for the good of America rather than decisions that maintain positions of power for certain elected officials.
Last, but not least, I expect some may say President Biden or Senator Fetterman leaving office before their term is up thwarts the will of the voters who voted for Democrat control of the U.S. Senate and the White House. Not so. The progressive Democrat governor of Pennsylvania would appoint another progressive Democrat to replace Senator Fetterman and progressive Democrat Vice President Harris would automatically replace progressive Democrat President Biden.
Now more than ever, we live in a “VUCA” world, one characterized by high levels of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. Accordingly, we need to confirm our President, our U.S. Senators, and all elected officials are at the very top of their game all day … every day. It bears repeating. Hiding the truth simply to keep power by intentional subterfuges is not right and never will be.
It is a time to get truthful and complete answers to the question — what am I not being told?
David Reel is a longtime observer of ever-changing events in the political arena. He is a public affairs/public relations consultant who serves as a trusted advisor on strategy, advocacy, and media matters.
Letters to Editor
K. Carroll says
A cognitive test will not uncover depression — at least the ones I have taken. How extensive a test do you expect to be used?
Richard Marks says
Thanks for this excellent viewpoint which need not have been prefaced as “Conservative Voices”. We should all hope our elected and appointed officials are of sound mind when making decisions. As well, we should hope those individuals surround themselves with staff and friends who are willing and able to speak truthfully should they witness behaviors deleterious to the welfare of our country and our communities as well as to themselves. Truth, however, from too many voices seems to be in short supply these days.
Bea Kelley says
Totally agree with Mr. Reel. Depression lowers your cognitive flexibility (the ability to adapt your goals and strategies to changing situations) and executive functioning (the ability to take all the steps to get something done and the normal aging process causes cognition slow down. Research has shown that concept formation, abstraction, and mental flexibility decline with age, especially after age 70, as older adults tend to think more concretely than younger adults. So why hide test results? As taxpayers that pay the salaries of these individuals we deserve honesty and transparency, regardless of the party.
SD Swan says
Person, Woman, Man, Camera, TV
Jayne Bourke Steeg says
Depression is a treatable medical condition. Dementia is sometimes managed to a point, but usually progresses. These are VERY different conditions.
Most people experience some level of depression in a lifetime. Stigmatizing people for ever seeking any medical care, including mental health care, is simply wrong… and is none of your business what a person does or doesn’t do.
There are laws to protect EVERYONE’S medical information — including yours — for good reason. It is unfortunate that some folks believe, as this article suggests, that anyone should be able to invade another’s privacy and demand or expect access to medical information of another person… for any reason.
Further, many members of Congress and various administrations have / have had health issues, some very serious. Some illness have impacted their performance or their ability to be present at times. Some have disclosed their illnesses voluntarily, which is their decision to do so… or not. It’s not your place to decide.
Further, in today’s world, it is quite baffling and disturbing that you would differentiate or discriminate against mental health.
Politics should never be an excuse for invading or abusing another’s medical privacy. Period.
Mickey Terrone says
Mr. Reel, I’d agree with your sensitive and caring letter that we are facing a mental health crisis in this country, especially with respect to our body politic.
I sometimes wish Joe Biden was more athletic, walked less like an 80-year old and had a huskier voice. Yet, if you watched his State of the Union message, you should be greatly encouraged that Biden has an agile, skilled and efficient mind. The manner in which he toyed with those who haggled him was classic Joe Biden. Moreover, he is surrounded not by “Yes Men”, but by many competent cabinet members. He has also passed numerous significant legislative bills during the last Congress despite only a razor-thin majority in both houses.
In fact, at the moment he boxed his Congressional Republican detractors in to ensure no cutting Social Security for all Americans, I wondered to myself about the mental health of the majority of those people who delude themselves into referring to themselves as “patriots” despite abandoning the US Constitution by voting against the Electoral College results on January 6, 2021. Do these people truly believe that Trump was robbed of millions of votes with no supportive evidence whatsoever? What could be the state of mind of so many people who deny the obvious truth, maintain an obvious lie and appear to become apoplectic when publicly challenged? Worse yet are the millions of deluded Americans who appear to believe these demagogues by voting for them to reinforce all the lies.
Paranoia is the delusional or unwarranted belief that one is being persecuted, harassed or betrayed by others occurring as part of a mental condition. Sound familiar? Isn’t this a mental health epidemic? Its doubtful that exposing FOX News as having willfully perpretrated the Big Lie will cause any meaningful acknowledgment of reality to so many deeply disturbed conservative Americans who believe anything they hear from that jaundiced source of disinformation.
Senator Fetterman is committed to dealing with his depression. He is confronting his condition yet millions of Americans continue to jeopardize our democratic republic, deluding themselves much to the avail of none but demagogues.
Deirdre LaMotte says
Beautifully said. And the thought of a Trump or
DeSantis Presidency is the end of this nation. No, this is not hyperbole:
They are nothing but little disables of Hungary’s dictator and they know it. The GOP has been seriously hijacked..
Can the remaining decent people in the GOP at least
speak out? Are you there? Hello??
jan bohn says
Well said! Who would ever advocate for someone in power who obviously, or perhaps only slightly obviously, isn’t quite as astute as he or she used to be to continue in the job? Unfortunately those whose faculties aren’t as good as they used to be don’t always realize that. It’s heartbreaking to tell someone ‘you aren’t capable of driving any more’. But if that someone is President of the United States and he/she does have some cognitive problems it would seem most important to address them. Why isn’t a cognitive test mandatory???