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Presidential Fitness and Presidential Lies: The Historical Record and a Proposal for Reform



Robert Dallek is the author of An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963 and Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power. He is an elected fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the Society of American Historians, which he served as president in 2004-2005.


Since at least the late nineteenth century, U.S. presidents have engaged in substantial and unjustified deception in a variety of domains, and future presidents will continue to do so unless new mechanisms are created to ensure greater accountability and oversight. The problem is particularly apparent in two very different domains: personal health and foreign policy. Several presidents and presidential candidates have concealed grave health conditions that impaired their ability to govern. As future presidential candidates are unlikely to be more forthcoming about their health, the public interest should be protected by an independent medical panel to evaluate presidential candidates. In foreign policy, recent decades have seen several egregious cases of presidential deception, including Lyndon B. Johnson on Vietnam, Richard M. Nixon on the Chilean coup, and George W. Bush on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Such ethical lapses justify a constitutional recall amendment, under which a congressional supermajority could subject the continued service of a sitting president to a popular vote.

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