Typically, a race for a U.S. Senate seat from Pennsylvania would only come to the attention of that state’s residents – and not even a majority of them – professional political pollsters and prognosticators, and avid political junkies.
But this year, things are different. One of the reasons the Pennsylvania race has garnered national attention is because the Republican candidate is a celebrity: Dr. (Mehmet) Oz of television show fame.
Recently, though, a factor eclipsing even Dr. Oz’ star power was a debate between Oz and his Democrat opponent, John Fetterman, in which the latter showed every indication that he’s still reeling from the effect s of a stroke he suffered back in May.
“Hi, good night, everybody” said Fetterman to begin the debate – and that was only the tip of the iceberg. There was nothing funny about it. It was chilling, and sad. This is not a Joe Biden senior moment. Those are unfortunate, but not jolting. To see a white-haired man approaching 80 stammer a little in his thoughts is part of the normal aging process. Fetterman, in stark contrast, is 53 and, standing six feet nine inches with a shaved head and goatee, is a robust and imposing figure. To hear him stumble like that – and he did so repeatedly – was just awful.
Mind you, I wouldn’t vote for him if he was the healthiest person on earth. His radical support of defunding the police alone is enough to sour me instantly, and his incessant lying that he was “always for fracking” when there’s ample footage of him speaking out against fracking in various interviews over the years doesn’t sweeten the deal.
As Pennsylvania’s incumbent Lieutenant Governor, Fetterman is also a heartbeat away from that state’s leadership, and yet neither he nor Governor Tom Wolfe has shown the courage to change that based on Fetterman’s clear incapacitation.
All of the above notwithstanding, this week’s column is not a rant about how bad Fetterman would be in the U.S. Senate because of both his current ailment and his fringe leftist ideology. Instead, it is to point out that the Fetterman phenomenon gives us an opportunity for some introspection.
Republicans, of course, see this as an opportunity to shame Democrats into voting for Oz, or at least stay home or write in another candidate’s name. “How can you possibly vote for a person in this condition?” is the outcry. Democrats, in turn, downplay Fetterman’s disability.
The hypocrisy on both sides is overwhelming but, hey, they’re politicians after all. Democrats pretend that if it was the Republican candidate who’d had a stroke they wouldn’t scream about his unfitness from the rooftops. And Republicans won’t acknowledge that if their candidate was the “hi, good night everybody” guy they would vote for him nonetheless.
In my 2021 book How to Talk Politics without Arguing, I describe the incredibly enlightening and liberating moment when one realizes that neither political party is inherently more moral, more decent, more honest, or more professional than the other. Voting Democrat vs. Republican is simply a matter of our speculation about which side would generate the most positive outcomes.
I challenge my fellow Republicans to join me in admitting out loud that if Oz had had the stroke instead of Fetterman, we’d still vote for Oz. Here’s why:
One of the top issues affecting Pennsylvanians’ lives – perhaps even more significantly than the exorbitant rate of inflation – is that crime is out of control. Not so much in idyllic rural settings, but in the densely populated areas of the state’s large, mid-sized, and even small cities. It’s not just gun violence – although that’s worst of all. It is stabbings, pummeling with rocks and hammers, carjackings, rampant looting and vandalism, and ambushing police officers duped into responding to phony 911 calls.
Now, imagine that Fetterman, eloquent and articulate with an intact brain, was not inclined to do anything about these problems, but Oz, barely able to speak about them because of a debilitating stroke, said: “Yes. I am….no…. yes…I am…crime is bad, we have to stop crime, crime is wrong.” (I’m not exaggerating, that’s really what Fetterman sounds like nowadays.) I’d still vote for Oz because my main focus is on a Republican majority in the Senate, even if Oz is merely told to sit down, keep his mouth shut, and just vote the way his party colleagues tell him to.
That’s exactly why Democrats are voting for Fetterman. Not because they support crime, but for other reasons, such as that Oz would be far less inclined to expand abortion rights, transgender bathrooms, and environmental initiatives. Consequently, they’ll take a mentally impaired Senator who at worst won’t side with the Republicans, and who at best may even make a full recovery in due time and emerge as a progressive force.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s a brain injury, mean tweets, eroding cognitive skills, or even death (you read that correctly: a number of candidates for Congress who died before an election won those elections nonetheless). The answer to “why on Earth would you vote for this person?” is: “because we believe that the alternative is even worse.”
There’s a reason that in election after election there’s a large swath of independent voters who remain undecided until the very last minute, vote third party, or simply stay home on Election Day: because they’re disgusted with the major party ‘hypocritopoly’.
Accordingly, we should all take a good look in the mirror and be honest with ourselves. Let us at least have the integrity not to point fingers when, under similar circumstances, we’d do the same thing. Let he who is without partisan absolutism cast the first stone.