In the United States, we are in the final stages of a Presidential election campaign. The two major candidates have spent substantial portions of the last two years flying around the country in planes, and in these final days the flying will accelerate until everything becomes a blur, and neither Mr. Obama nor Mr. Romney will know whether they are in Charlotte, North Carolina or Cleveland, Ohio. They, as their predecessors before them, will be very tired and will probably make some verbal gaffes along the way. President Gerald Ford, when he ran in 1976, was spared that agony at the end of the campaign because he lost his voice.
But candidates today have it easy.
Yes, I know that they’re blanketing the entire country and have been doing so for years. But at least they get to ride on planes when they do it.
Consider Stephen Douglas. Douglas was the 1860 Democratic candidate for President, except for the teeny tiny little fact that the Democratic Party split into two that particular year, so Douglas only really represented the Northern Democrats. Despite this, Douglas spent nine days campaigning in the South in late October 1860. And he didn’t use a private plane on his trip to St. Louis, Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga, Atlanta, and Mobile. The result? Not a single electoral vote in any of those states.
But Douglas wasn’t done. After the attack on Fort Sumter, President Lincoln asked Douglas to return to their home state of Illinois to aid the Civil War cause. Lincoln made the request of Douglas on April 14, and by April 25 he was speaking before the Illinois Legislature.
That final trip killed him. He never left Illinois, and died of typhoid fever in June.
Look at all of the Presidential candidates of the past few years, including those who sought but did not receive their party’s nomination. Obama, Romney, Mrs. Clinton, Kerry, Bush, Gore, Dole, Mr. Clinton. Did any of them die from the effects of travel?
The only two recent Presidents that have come close to death in the last few decades were Reagan, who was shot, and Nixon, who was under extraordinary stress by the time he left office. Imagine if Nixon wasn’t able to take a plane from Washington to San Clemente – he might not have survived the trip West.