Presidential Headaches

Yesterday, there was an incident on the Michelle Bachmann for President campaign in which a reporter attempted to ask the candidate some questions and her handlers were likely rougher in restraining him than they really should have been. This one incident does not make Bachmann or her people bullies, in my opinion; it does, however, suggest inexperience, as in, these folks still aren’t ready for prime time. Perhaps if Bachmann’s campaign continues to gather steam and attract political support, people with wisdom, or at least cooler heads, will become affiliated and be able to prevent this sort of thing. But what’s more interesting is the question that the reporter wanted to ask the candidate. And how at least one of her challengers for the Republican Presidential nomination is willing to use it as fodder to take wind out of her sails.

Note that this has nothing to do with her particular brand of preferred policies or her personality; if you find Rep. Bachmann’s politics distasteful, it ought not to be too difficult to imagine that a candidate you do like suffers from this condition. The question before the committee is whether susceptibility to migraines is an issue to consider regarding her ability to serve as President.

Although I do not claim to be in the least bit alone in this respect, I, too, am a sporadic migraine sufferer. I get migraine effects on my vision once or twice a month. Once or twice a year I suffer a major event. 

Some people think migraines are mere headaches used by malingerers to defer work or to provide convenient excuses to decline their spouses’ requests for sex. While I can assure you that a migraine removes all desire for sex from a person, it is hardly an excuse. Migraines are neurological phenomena and during the painful, nauseating, and disorienting climax of a major event, they can be debilitating.

Over-the-counter migraine symptom pills are just acetominephin (Tylenol) with caffiene added, and when I am stricken with one, I prefer to sleep through it so I try to avoid the medication. The President would not have the luxury of time and deference of work to do this. Fortunately, for many people, medication can mitigate and to some extent prevent migrane events and apparently Rep. Bachmann says she has been able to control her situation in this manner for years and I see no reason not to take her at her word. Migraine medication has minimal side-effects.

Here’s the deal, Governor Pawlenty: the brain is a part of the body like any other. You get treatment for it, you deal with it, if you’re the President, you keep on discharging your duties. This isn’t the early 1800’s when medical conditions were treated with snakebites, with deleterious health effects on Presidents.  

The brain is a part of the body like any other; if there is something medically wrong with it, and that something can be treated or controlled with non-invasive, non-debilitating techniques, that something should be considered a minor condition.

Of course, what if it’s not migraines? What if it’s epilepsy? Epilepsy is controllable with medication also, at least for minor seizures. A grand mal seizure is something else, potentially fatal — but then again, so is coronary disease. Dick Cheney was Vice President for eight years and could have had to have stepped up to be President at any time. No one really thought all that much about his heart condition. (Progressives, please restrain your now-stale Cheney jokes here, I’m trying to be serious.)

Or, what if it’s a mental health issue, like depression or bipolar? I suspect such a person would not get into politics and even if they did they would not pursue it to a high level in the first place. But again, medication can bring these conditions under control and if there are no significant side effects and the patient is reasonable in conforming to a medication regimen, there is no particular reason to fear these kinds of conditions anymore, either. At least, so sayeth Burt Likko. And he sayeth so in part so you can disagree with him in Ye Olde Comments Sectione should you be so inclined.

I have long wondered if Thomas Jefferson was also a migraine sufferer. On a tour of Monticello, I recall seeing a daybed he had built for himself in his library. It occurred to me that with thick curtains drawn, that room would be a quiet, dark place where his family and staff would be likely to leave him alone — a perfect retreat for him to retire and try to sleep through the climax of a migraine event. And Jefferson seemed to sometimes shrink from social events which he normally would have been inclined to enjoy — even as a young man in college and especially after the stresses of politics and government and his ever-poor finances built up over the years. He would never have admitted this sort of personal weakness, of course, so you have to read between the lines. If Thomas Jefferson could suffer from migraines with only a daybed available for treatment, a person in the twenty-first century can surely do the same, availing herself of relatively common medications dispensed under a doctor’s supervision.

I have several serious reservations about Michelle Bachmann as President which can be raised some other time, some of which relate to policy disagreements and some of which relate to her experience. But her migraines are not a reason to dismiss her from consideration. If she treated them in some unreasonable way, then that might be a problem for me. But she sees a regular doctor, gets regular medicine, and goes on about her life in a reasonable and normal way. She is as physically capable of doing the job of being President as anyone else out there vying for the position.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.


  1. I was double-checking that Julius Caesar suffered from epilepsy, and Wikipedia told me that some moderns think he had migraines instead. Either way, he manged to do pretty well.

    No one really thought all that much about his heart condition.
    As I recall, many conservatives columnists did, starting in 2007, because of the specter of Nancy Pelosi as the next in succession.

  2. Bachmann needs to fire her goons.

    A migraine sufferer writhing in misery, feebly vomiting and shaking is a sympathetic figure. As someone who suffers from bipolar disorder, I observe my condition doesn’t engender much empathy from the world at large. It’s the monster under my bed which comes out pretty much every two months and as I grow older the medications no longer work.

    Bachmann cuts a vicious swath through the landscape of politics, a remarkably unsympathetic figure. There’s nobody so big and powerful as they aren’t reduced to merely human by their problems. We want to see these political figures as human but they never let us. Their image consultants won’t let us. It might make us a kindlier people if we could see them. Surely the politicians wish for this connection as well.

    • Blaise, my friend, my heart is with you–while not suffering myself with the Black Dog (Churchill’s term for depression) I have many friends and family who are captive to this most sinister and destructive disorder. It’s power to rob and leave one’s soul in shreds is legendary and utterly unpredictable. My grandmother had it so bad that she needed almost three days of isolation every few months to deal with this most unwelcome intruder.

      Stories abound of course. Beethoven, apparently was a longtime sufferer. As if deafness was not enough for this musical saint, a saint who so lovingly, and generously spent hundreds of hours transcribing his masterpiece, the Grosse Fugue for two pianos–actually, it might have been a transcription for one piano four hands.

      Mr. Blaise, I strongly suspect that underneath this veneer of a hardened heart of stone of yours ,there exists a heart of gold.

      • Mental health issues run in your family? Shocking.

        • I can only interpret that as a compliment, Mr. Shilling.

          So, my deepest thanks. A life absent ecstatic mania would make life almost meaningless. The intensity, searing; the fall, inevitable and always, crushing It will forever be the fusion of God, Nature, and Music that therein, lies a Trinity of immeasurable grace and Beauty. Why would one need faith when the reality of this experience and divine manifestation is as real and alive as anything we will ever experience?

          Soli Deo Gloria.

          p.s. MS– Yes, nuts everythere in my family. Nonetheless, cannot honestly say I’d rather have it any other way. Would you?

        • Mike Shelling—“Mental health issues run in your family? Shocking.”

          That’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever read!

    • “As someone who suffers from bipolar disorder…”

      Ah-ha. This explains much.

      So you’re saying we shouldn’t take your posts seriously because sometimes you’re insane?

    • Bachmann is far less vicious than her critics. This shouldn’t even be disputable, but I imagine somebody will try anyway.

      • I agree. Can we also agree that she is also either nuttier than her critics, or – if not – really bad at messaging?

        • Not moi, RTod. I could carry some water for her against the caricatures and distortions of what she says, though.

          Not really interested, as there’s probably something like Beck’s race-baiting Obama in her record somewhere. As you know about these things, it’s all or nothing. I will not bet my entire stack on red.

          Her critics are far more vicious than she, this I’ll let stand. As a gentleman of intelligence and wisdom, surely you’ll not ask me to do the unnecessary for the ungrateful for what is an easy google away. [If not a perusal of this very blog’s comboxes!]

          • “I could carry some water for her”

            Is that what the kids are calling it these days?

          • Fronting, mebbe, RT. Lots and lots of fronting going on everywhere. The best criticism of “ideology” really, I think. Tribalism is the primary political dynamic.

            I’ve been thinking all day about our “ideology” discussion, so terribly productive. I was not thinking of “the Austrian” when I mentioned eugenics: I was thinking of the early 20th century and the eminently reasonable Peter Singer.

            Eugenics is empirically defensible; it was defeated by ideology, the ideology of all men being created equal, of the dignity of the human person.

            Call me an ideologue, a rationalist, a priori Joe, a philosopher if you must, whathaveyou.

          • I think I will stick to calling you Tom. It suits you.

  3. I would quibble a little bit with your statements about bipolar disorder. That diagnosis is being used more broadly than it used to be, and includes more people who would likely have been diagnosed as cyclothymic before. While it is indeed a medical condition like any other and can be controlled with medication is most cases, it is nevertheless somewhat worrisome to consider the implications of a hypomanic person being President in a time of crisis.

    For patients with more severe bipolar disorder, there is often impaired reality testing during manic episodes. In other words, these patients can lose touch with reality. (Schizophrenia is the other major mental health disorder typified by impaired reality testing, if I recall my psychiatry correctly.) I would not want anyone with a history of breaks from reality to be President, no matter how effective their medical management at any given time. People’s physiology can change with time or stress, thus altering the response to medication. Symptoms of psychosis can be subtle at first, and patients often lack insight into their own erratic behaviors. It would cause way too many headaches to determine if the President’s seeming grandiosity or paranoia was stemming from an exacerbation of an underlying mental health disorder or was merely a personality quirk.

    • Dr. Saunders, I assume your remarks and comments are directed towards someone else, but thanks anyway.

      This is a very, very great reply. It’s rather blown me away, to be honest. Would you mind if I sent it to some friends? Naturally, with complete and total attribution. If your answer is no, that’s as equally understandable as well. Many thanks, sir.

      • Blaise, a thought just occurred to me. You have all of Beethoven’s bipolar disorder and I have all of his thermonuclear tinnitus–does this mean that together, we can compose another, An die Freude? Worth a try? It would probably be an obvious necessity for us to be a good distance from one another otherwise, I suspect, I’d be killed and fed to the vultures on day one. Just a thought.

        To the good doctor, is tinnitus forever? Once mine started, it’s never stopped.
        It can be god-awful, but I try to one-up it by raising the volume of the endless chatter and clatter going on in other places of the brain.

        • Dr. Saunders,

          Thank you so much, kind sir–much appreciated. Are you sure that in addition to being a pediatrician, you’re not a psychiatrist as well? You certainly seem to have a special insight into this disorder-I would love very much to read anything you’ve written on this subject. Also, anything you’ve ever written on children’s early generalized dystonia. I would certainly be more than happy to reimburse you for your efforts. Many thanks Dr. Saunders

          p.s. Did you go to medical school in New England? Who knows–our paths may even have crossed. I was a student at New England Conservatory–loved those Friday afternoon $2 rush seats! Heard Serkin play Beethoven’s Fourth piano concerto–life has never been the same, speaking of mania and ecstasy.

    • Good points.

      Re: grandiosity. While I know that I should leave the actual diagnosing to the professionals, some politicians I’ve been able to interact with on more than a superficial level have struck me as having several hits or at least near-misses on the checklist of indicators for Narcissistic Personality Disorder. A stronger-than-is-probably-realistic assessment of one’s own capabilities may be a factor in the self-selection process for standing for election in the first place, which is a fancy way of saying “People who think a bit too well of themselves are the ones who are attracted to politics in the first place.”

      • Exactly. Since those personality types may overlap to a statistically greater degree with the politician Venn diagram, it may be hard to suss out if President X is acting within expected bounds or is at the beginnings of a psychotic break.

  4. First, I’ll say that I have never suffered from migraines, and from all the accounts I have heard and read from people who have, I am very grateful.

    Second, I do think there is a point at which a person’s health (mental or otherwise) is a relevant issue when it comes to whether they should be president. Maybe it’s not whether he or she suffers migraines, but there would be a point at which that person’s performance would be strongly affected. I’m not prepared to posit a universal rule, so that “if person has X, he or she can’t be president,” but it enters into the calculation of the job that person can do.

    Third, as Mr. Likko points out, there is a process of self-selection. If someone was prone, for example, to debilitating migraines on a weekly basis and medication did not help him or her, I assume that person would not want to run for president. Heck, I am (knock on wood, so far) mostly healthy, and I don’t want to be president (not that there’s a big call for me to do so).

  5. Or, what if it’s a mental health issue, like depression or bipolar?

    That would be a cognitive or behavioral defect, not a ‘health issue’.

    There are 3.4 million federal employees and a body of presidential succession law. The notion the President cannot be out of commission for some hours or days indicates an unnecessary anxiety.

    Recall that Ronald Reagan made fewer unforced errors than Lyndon Johnson, while working one-third the hours.

    • In my experience, a properly-medicated bipolar or depressive person is perfectly capable of navigating the world with no cognitive disfunction apparent. An improperly-medicated patient does indeed suffer some cognitive impairment and can have difficulty making decisions, particularly under pressure — I’ve seen people I strongly suspected of having conditions like this suffer mental vaporlock in court when things started to turn against them. But again, someone who had that sort of challenge would be unlikely in the extreme to seek the Presidency in the first place.

      • It turns out Mike to be a Nordic mask–I think they’ve narrowed it down to Mullah Omar or Heinrich Himmler. Himmler’s been bouncing around from one cryogenic tank to another.

        Rudolf Hess can’t be ruled at this time, either. He’s still trying to figure out where is peace initiative flight went wrong. Who knows, it may even be Sasquatch. Maybe one of Robert Cheeks gnostics?

    • And a good thing too. Think of all the other terrorist groups he could have given arms to if he’d been awake more often.

  6. Of course the lefty machine will declare her unfit but these are the same folks that would laude JFK and FDR despite all of their conditions. Not to mention that she has a doctor’s note saying she is ok, so I’m not sure what the big deal is.

    • Yup, look at all the lefties making a big deal of this. There’s Pawlenty and … who else?

      • Mike:

        Just give them a chance, esp if she ends up on the ticket.

        • I think there’s enough to complain about without making stuff up.

    • And knowing JFK slept many times with a real, live bonofide East German spy! Boy, you don’t think a little blackmail might be in the works, do you? Nah, not with JFK who was probably the most neurotic, undisplined president ever to occupy the White House.

      And to think we were worried about where Clinton’s cigars had been. Just imagine the $$$ Kennedy’s cigars could fetch on EBay. We won’t even get into the old man’s obsessive penchant for skirt chasing. He also had a rather peculiar liking of Hitler. He was strongly opposed against taking any military against the lovable, misundestood, Hitler. Wanted history to just play out. He Out-Chamberlained Chamberlain!

      • …And this relates to Michelle Bachmann’s migraines how, exactly?

        • Not related. Kennedy did, however, have Addison’s Disease. He also devoted large quantities of time nailing broads he hardly knew (when he wasn’t riveting the girlfriend of the boss of the Chicago Outfit). Somehow, the Republic survived.

          • The week before Lincoln died, he was in Monroe Maryland.

            The week before Kennedy died, HE WAS IN MARILYN MONROE!!

          • One hopes not, considering she had dies the previous year.

        • Say it ain’t so,Burt–you’re not abandoning me now, are you?

          No me–I LOVE Bachmann. One of the happiest moments in my life will be when I can pull the lever for this absolutely lovely lady.

          Her positions (no, you filthy minded deviants-not THOSE positions) are well articulated and most importantly of all, she’ll cause mass hysteria with the Libs and Lefties. Don’t for a second doubt this or my reasoning–this is a very important distinction and there is no better person to deliver a/the knockout blow than Bachmann. And she’ll do it—with relish!

          As I said yesterday, the stark difference is this–

          Liberals/Lefties: The Piss Christ by Serrano

          Conservatives: The St. Matthew Passion by J.S. Bach

          The whole ball of wax in a nutshell, no?

          • Voting for a candidate because it will infuriate a segment of the citizenry different than my own strikes me as about one of the worst imaginable reasons to give support to that candidate. No method of using one’s franchise could be better calculated to fragment the polity as a whole than “I will vote for the candidate you are least likely to accept.”

            My greatest concern about Bachmann is that she has zero executive experience and only very limited legislative experience. If you’ve been following me for a while, you will recall that this was precisely my concern about Barack Obama. I don’t think Obama has come into his own as an executive until this year — and in the meantime we’ve had a President who has been more of a Prime Minister and not a particularly effective one at that. Our system requires a President and being President is fundamentally different than being a Senator, which in turn is marginally better than being a Representative, since Senators are required by the filibuster rule to spend more time in deliberations and reaching out to accomodate the concerns of the other side of the political debate. It’s more party-line in the House. And none of it is the same thing as being the boss; executive jobs require a different set of skills than legislative jobs.

            I prefer people who have severed as Governors of their respective states best, or otherwise have had executive political experience. That, it seems to me, provides the best experience for what it takes to be President. As a next-best, I’d like to see experience serving in the Cabinet or in a command capacity within the military.

            Once again, none of this has anything to do with political positions. But if we’re going to get in to that, then you and I may part ways when it comes to a policy analysis of her platform. For starters, I’m rather disturbed that Congresswoman Bachmann so quickly signed on a petition which seems to include promising to violate the Constitution by promising to supress Constitutionally protected speech and to use the power of the Presidency to place a de jure imprimatur of approval on discrimination. In my mind, unless she finds a way to backpedal from the contents of that petition or revokes her endorsement of it, by signing that petition she has promised to break her oath of office should she be elected. This is something that the Dude cannot abide.

  7. Interesting how it’s all right to feel that a woman’s mental issues make her unfit for an intellectually-demanding position of great responsibility–as long as that woman is a fucking Republican bitch.

    (The view described here is not being ascribed to Burt Likko, but to the people who think that this is an appropriate line of attack on Bachmann.)

    • DD:

      Exactly, just like calling her a “flake.” We all know what would have happened if that had been done to a female Dem candidate.

      • Fox News, yet another cohort of the liberal media.

        By the way, does anyone recall the uproar when Neal Boortz said that Cynthia McKinney “looks like a ghetto slut”? How he was hounded by the PC crowd until he lost his show? Yeah, neither do I.

        • Neal Boortz is more in the unaffiliated right-libertarian circle. Hannity by contrast is a GOP mouthpiece; had he said something so offensive, there would have been hell to pay.

          Boortz is off the national radar, like Michael Savage in a pox-on-both-houses private Idaho. When Savage made his play for national stature [MSNBC], he made a crack about somebody getting AIDS and was packed off to Private Idaho, never to return.

          In fact, Glenn Beck has just got the same boot, and I trace it to the single comment about BHO being hostile to white people. Although Beck never went there again, it was a stain he could never put behind him.

          • I thought Beck got the boot because his ratings were down.

          • I dunno. All the nutty things Glenn has said and you think it was him insulting Obama that made FOX uncomfortable?

            Still, I’m pretty sure Mike is correct. I think all the prevailing wisdom when he left was the ratings were going down and sponsors were leaving.

          • The lefty-driven sponsor boycott may have done it, true. Me, I don’t like voices silenced. Everybody has a good point or two. I happen to think Ward Churchill had a live point about “Little Eichmanns.”

            But I do think the race-baiting of Obama was indefensible, which is why I won’t get caught carrying his water [and neither can Fox], as yet another victim of the left shouting down opposing voices. I know what he was trying to say, that BHO has a deep-left hostility to the neo-liberal American system [“white man’s greed,” per Rev. Wright], but it came out wrongwrongwrong.

          • Mr van Dyke’s ability to blame everything in the world on left-wing conspiracies is, unfortunately, not even close to unparalleled.

          • Yes, it says that those specific remarks were the issue. It doesn’t support that statement. Nor does it connect the corporations removing their sponsorship with “the left”.

          • Mr. Schilling, don’t you ever look anything up? To see if it’s true? Not to become a useful contributor to the proceedings around here, but out of some curiosity about truth?

            Some folks tell me they enjoy seeing you get these well-deserved slapdowns, but I don’t enjoy them. I just want you off my back and a stop to this harassment and burying my comments under unprincipled and uninformed BS.

          • Yes, Tom, it’s my job to verify all the crap you post, and the lurkers support you in e-mail. And when you “support” and unsupported assertion by showing that you’re quoting the same unsupported assertion, I’m supposed to be impressed.

            I’m truly enoying this subthread, in which we’re told that the left is attacking Bachmann because Tim Pawlenty and Chris Wallace were rude to her.

          • Contradicted by the facts again, Mr. Schilling, yet still you attack. I assure you even folks from your side of the aisle are not enjoying your comments, nor watching you “enjoying yourself.”

            As for your job, it would be looking stuff up and contributing, not disrupting, as is all our jobs.

    • Can you point me to Democratic legislators who have had mental issues in the public eye that Democrat’s have ignored? Until then, can you kindly quit playing the victim?

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