The veep's health

Cheney: Procedure to unblock heart artery raises questions about his work schedule and statements.

March 09, 2001

TWENTY-ONE HOURS after leaving a hospital bed, Vice President Cheney was back at his desk, at 7:30 a.m., trying to make light of the angioplasty he had undergone to reopen a narrowed heart artery.

White House officials, from the president on down, also tried to minimize Mr. Cheney's surgery.

That's not the best course of action. In matters of health affecting the president or vice president, honesty is always the best policy.

That's especially true in Mr. Cheney's case. He has suffered four heart attacks over the past 23 years -- including one in November -- bypass surgery and occasional chest pains that led to Monday's hospital procedure.

Trying to hide or sugarcoat new flare-ups is counterproductive. Yet Mr. Cheney went on television Sunday and said he was doing fine -- even though he'd been having chest discomfort for a day.

That approach won't build public confidence. It only breeds public skepticism.

Mr. Cheney's chronic heart disease is manageable, but it will only get worse over the years. In that respect, it's similar to the degenerative hip injury that is forcing the Orioles' Albert Belle to retire from baseball. Only Mr. Cheney has a desk job, not a physically taxing job as an athlete.

It would be foolish for the president to assume Mr. Cheney can resume his heavy workload without missing a beat. It would be shortsighted, too. The vice president plays a pivotal role in this administration. A modified schedule, with built-in relaxation periods, would be a sensible way to help Mr. Cheney manage his condition.

There's also a need to re-think the way the White House deals with health-related news. No one wants a repeat of the Eisenhower years, when the president's major heart attack in 1955 was termed "digestive upset" by the White House press secretary and a 1956 intestinal blockage requiring surgery was called "an upset stomach and headaches."

People deserve truthful and prompt announcements about the well-being of their top elected leaders.

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