McCain Medical Records: If Nothing Else, He's Old

After a year of promises, John McCain is finally set to release his medical records to the media on Friday. As a 71-year-old Vietnam veteran, former prisoner of war and four-time skin cancer survivor, John McCain's mental and physical fitness for the office of commander-in-chief has been repeatedly called into question. The McCain camp, with its press conference called for today, is attempting to allay those concerns as well concerns voters may harbor about electing the oldest first-term president in the history of the United States.

The New York Times reports that news organizations handpicked by the campaign will have access to 400 pages of McCain's medical records from 2000 on, including documents related to his melanoma surgery that year. Reporters will also ask questions of McCain's doctors during a 90-minute conference call.

McCain has spent a lifetime combating physical disabilities and health issues. During his tenure as a pilot in the Navy, McCain broke both his arms and his right leg at the knee when his plane was shot down over Hanoi. He was then stabbed multiple times with a bayonet by a mob of angry villagers who dragged him from a lake. He was subsequently tortured for five-and-a-half years.

In 2000, John McCain endured almost six hours of surgery to remove his invasive skin cancer. Doctors also removed lymph nodes in his neck resulting in a swollen left check and a scar on the back of his neck that is still visible.

"It's not just that he'd be the oldest president...With all due respect to him, McCain years are like dog years," said Robert Watson, a professor and presidential scholar at Lynn University in Florida in an interview with The Washington Times in April.

He said: "The public is concerned about the health of a president. This year in particular, the new president will have a full plate. The country is divided. We are fighting two wars. We are going to need a healthy president to put in a full day, and the type of workload would be devastating for a person half John McCain's age."

Although the McCain camp maintains that there will be no surprises in his health record, the Arizona senator has acknowledged that his age and health will be an issue. When asked whether or not he would have the stamina to serve as president for eight years, Mc Cain responded, "If I said I was running for eight years, I'm not sure that would be a vote-getter."

According to an ABC poll, age is a major hurdle for McCain: "Thirty-nine percent of Americans say they'd be uncomfortable with a president first taking office at age 72, far more than say they'd be uncomfortable with a woman (16 percent) or African-American (12 percent) as president."

McCain will meet with three potential running mates at his ranch in Arizona this weekend and all three are fairly young politicians. Gov. Charlie Crist, 51, of Florida, Gov. Bobby Jindal, 36 of Louisiana and Mitt Romney, 61, former governor of Massachusetts accepted invitations to attend a social gathering in Sedona with the senator.

Some political insiders have differing opinions on the importance of choosing a younger running mate. "Reagan had a quote 'age' issue in 1980. It wouldn't go away until the day he picked George Bush as vice president," said Charlie Black, a Republican strategist in an interview with the New York Times. "And then people said, well here's a known quantity, the guy has experience, including international experience, and yeah, he could handle it," he said.

In the same article Joel K. Goldstein, a law professor at St. Louis University who studies the vice presidency, said age should always be a secondary factor in choosing a running mate.

"I think nowadays that any presidential candidate has to pick somebody who is a plausible president. I think you can't put a bozo or a mediocrity on the ticket just because he is the most popular official in a state with 20-plus electoral votes."

Mark Benjamin of Salon suggests that revelations in McCain's medical records will do little to quell concerns over his age and health. The mere fact that McCain is allowing reporters to view his medical files and grill his doctors may heighten voter awareness of the differences between McCain and his likely competitor, Barack Obama, who at 46 is young enough to be McCain's son.