Too bad concerns about mental health and tax returns are laughable when you worked for Donald Trump.
It’s understandable that the public should have a vested interest in the mental state of our various political leaders. Those entrusted with the sort of unimaginable power and responsibility that comes with high elected office warrant an elevated measure of concern and scrutiny when it comes to their emotional and cognitive capacity. From Ronald Reagan’s alleged in-office Alzheimer’s to Donald Trump’s excessive crowing over his ability to remember “person, woman, man, camera, TV,” the truth is that there’s no systematic mechanism in place to uniformly assess the mental health and fitness of America’s political class.
In an interview this week with the far right-wing Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody, Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina Republican governor-turned-Trump administration U.N. ambassador, broached this understandably uncomfortable subject, suggesting mandatory cognitive testing for “anyone above a certain age in a position of power.”
“Let's face it, we’ve got a lot of people in leadership positions that are old. And that’s not being disrespectful. That’s a fact," Haley said, insisting her stance wasn’t simply an attack on 78-year-old President Biden. "When it comes to that, this shouldn’t be partisan. We should seriously be looking at the ages of the people that are running our country and understand if that’s what we want.”
Unlike many of her fellow conservatives, Haley — widely believed to be a top-tier Republican presidential candidate in the not-too-distant future — is not stupid. By framing her comments in decidedly bipartisan terms, she has not only elided the unseemly mudslinging of attacking Biden for his age directly (even though that’s exactly what she’s doing), but also raised the specter in voters’ minds of former President Trump’s own cognitive struggle, in a possible preemptive attempt to clear the path for her own executive aspirations should they both run in 2024. (Haley, who is 49, by the way, has previously insisted she won’t run if Trump does, although all’s fair in love and politics these days.)
Like any shrewd politician, Haley’s opportunistic ageism comes wrapped around a kernel of truth. Powerful Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) has long been dogged by rumors of very serious mental decline, while geriatric senility across the federal judicial bench is a well-known — and deeply troubling — trend. In that sense, Haley’s suggestion that “hey, maybe people entrusted with unimaginable power and authority should have a system in place to make sure they’re in the right mental state to wield said power” is, at least superficially, a fairly reasonable position.
But lest you really think Haley’s push is about anything other than her own partisan ambition, consider how she framed her proposed cognitive report card (emphasis mine): “You should have some sort of cognitive test, just like you have to show your tax returns.”
Ma’am. Need I remind you whom you used to work for?