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Lara M. Brown, Ph.D.

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Michele Bachmann and Migraines: Presidential Disqualifier or Sexism?

Posted: 07/21/11 05:09 PM ET

"I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent and of human knowledge that has ever been gathered together at the White House -- with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone." This humorous remark was said by John F. Kennedy at a dinner honoring forty-nine Nobel Laureates on April 29, 1962.

But what do John F. Kennedy and Thomas Jefferson have in common with Michele Bachmann?

Both former presidents also experienced reoccurring migraines throughout their lives.

Thomas Jefferson wrote the immortal words, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness," along with the rest of the Declaration of Independence in June 1776 -- about one month after recovering from a bout of migraine headaches that had lasted five weeks and had begun in April.

Clearly, not even one of Jefferson's worst migraines, or as he called it, "a severe attack of periodical headache" left him with any permanent intellectual impairment. He could still think.

More alarming -- not to mention revolting -- than any revelation, which has come out thus far about Bachmann, Kennedy once commented to Democratic political adviser Bobby Baker, "You know, I get a migraine headache if I don't get a strange piece of ass every day" (see endnote 54).

Since neither Kennedy's philandering nor his migraines were questioned when he ran for the presidency in 1960, do we really believe Michele Bachmann should need to submit her doctor's note for a condition that is, given the advances in modern medicine, completely manageable?

She doesn't have a life-threatening illness. She is not experiencing the lead poisoning that Andrew Jackson was suffering from the un-removed bullets in his body. She has not suffered a heart attack as Eisenhower had in the year before he ran for reelection. She is not even prone to a reoccurring psychological malady, like depression as Abraham Lincoln was. Moreover, women in their forties and fifties are often in better health than men of the same age. Is there a reason President Barack Obama, a decades-long cigarette smoker, has not been required to submit to a chest x-ray or lung scan?

As an individual who has had chronic migraines for the past fifteen years, I can attest to the fact that that they are three things: painful, inconvenient, and controllable. As the medical doctor for the House of Representatives explained yesterday, migraines "have known trigger factors" (e.g., wine and chocolate) and those can be avoided.

Simply put, this is a manufactured issue and a sexist attack to stop Bachmann's surging poll momentum. Let's face it: in most polls, she is running either just ahead or just behind Mitt Romney. What better way for one of her GOP opponents (this story broke in the Daily Caller, a Republican online news site, meaning this smear was likely done by a Republican, not a Democrat) to undermine her growing support among religious conservatives and those aligned with the Tea Party movement. After all, questioning John McCain's health and senility helped the Democrats win in 2008.