ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 8: U.S. Senate candidate and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina arrives with her husband Frank Fiorina to celebrate her primary win at the California Republican Party event on California Primary Election night at the Anaheim Hilton on June 8, 2010 in Anaheim, California. Fiorina hopes to unseat Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer who is in a virtual tie with Republican challenger Tom Campbell, according to a recent poll. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
Politicians shouldn't be believed when it comes to describing their health. One of my first experiences as a journalist was covering the 1992 presidential campaign. I remember Paul Tsongas, the leading opponent of Bill Clinton for the Democratic nomination that year, reassuring me and other journalists that he had fully recovered from cancer without relapse.
He was lying. He didn't win, and he died in January 1997 -- at the end of what would have been his first term as president.
So while this is almost certainly unfair, it must be said: what Carly Fiorina says about her health should be taken with a dose of skepticism. Let's all hope and pray, for her sake (and ours if she's our next senator), that she is as healthy as her campaign indicates and that the matter that landed her in the hospital is just an infection that can be treated with antibiotics. But for now, we have to take her word for it. Fiorina has not released her medical records publicly.
To be clear: Fiorina is under no obligation to release such records. And the health of a possible U.S. Senator is not nearly as important a matter as the health of a possible president. There are 100 senators. Each can be quickly and fairly easily replaced. And there's little data to suggest that voters make decisions based on the health of candidates; they are far more interested in party affiliation and policy views.
But Fiorina might be wise to release her records anyway, as a way of communicating that she will be up front with voters (and perhaps assuaging any public concerns about her health). If there are risks that she might relapse or have other health complications that could cause her to miss time in the Senate, voters might want to know about that ahead of time. And by disclosing her records now, she will be able to say that she had leveled with Californians -- that they knew what she knew about her health.
Attendance is crucial in the Senate, and it's especially crucial for a California senator. The institution, which grants two senators to all 50 states regardless of size, works against the interests of California and the big states. So California needs a senator who is well enough to be there every day protecting the state's interests.