The good people of Pennsylvania, although ignorant, do have, unlike their more unenlightened neighbors across the Delaware River in the state of New Jersey, an inborn ability to grasp the truth. In them, but not in us, there’s an instinctive talent to comprehend objective reality, an eye capable of detecting subtle but incontrovertible truths to which we here in the Garden State tend to be hopelessly blind. The force of empirical truth, while powerless to move a New Jerseyan’s settled politics, appears to have a more measurable impact on the Pennsylvanian’s mind.
While I’m convinced, resignedly, to the sad notion that my fellow New Jerseyans are at once ignorant and forever unfeeling to the strong tremors of truth, I don’t really think that the people of Pennsylvania share in our proud ignorance. So far as I can tell, their ignorance neither exceeds nor falls short of that which imprints itself on the average American’s mind. I do think, however, that during this year’s campaign to elect Senator Pat Toomey’s replacement, the people of Pennsylvania have been kept deliberately uninformed and purposely ignorant of the qualifications and, more importantly, the glaring, unmistakable deficits of at least one of its candidates.
I speak, of course, of John Fetterman, the Democratic candidate against whom Dr. Mehmet Oz, the Republican, is running. Fetterman’s credentials don’t exactly suggest a man who is, how shall we say, United States Senate material (although, now that I think about it, very few people currently seated in that august, upper chamber of Congress strike me as being adequately qualified, either morally or intellectually, for the high post to which they’ve been raised. Perhaps, beyond his being thirty years of age and nine years a lawful citizen, the Constitution ought to demand of its senate candidates just a bit more. Familiarity, if not fluency with the English language? An ability to differentiate between the sexes? A basic understanding of our Constitutional structure? These are but a few additions with which to start).
An overgrown dependent on his wealthy family until the fourth decade of his life, Fetterman was elected mayor of the small borough of Braddock, a town just outside the city limits of Pittsburgh, in which fewer than two thousand souls reside. To put that unimpressive figure in some context, that’s about the same quantity of people with whom I graduated high school in the (mortifying distant) year of 2010.
While mayor, Fetterman cultivated a main-street, homegrown, “everyman” persona, by which many of his industrious, blue-collar, no-nonsense constituents were apparently charmed. And in what way, you might ask, would this kind of unusual figure attire himself? His “brand”, his style, if you will, manifested itself in the form of an oversized Carhartt hooded sweatshirt, a meaty pair of tattooed forearms, a grizzled salt-and-pepper goatee, a head uncapped by a single tuft of hair, an unexplained excrescence growing from the rear of his neck, and, the proper dress of any aspiring statesman, a pair of big, baggy blue jeans.
Fetterman, suddenly deemed by outfit and comportment to be a man “of the people”, and one for whom, with great expectations, leftists should eagerly look out, watched as his national popularity rose. No sooner had he taken the reigns of humble little Braddock than he was elevated to the position of Lieutenant Governor of the state of Pennsylvania, a role in which he currently serves. As he attained to the status of gruff, untraditional, radical, local celebrity, supposedly in perfect empathy with the working man, he was quickly identified as one of the Democratic Party’s “fresh faces” and “rising stars”, on whom it dreamed of hitching its senatorial prospects.
In the spring of 2022, Fetterman campaigned for and secured the Democratic Party’s nomination to run for the Senate. On the Friday before the primary election, though (in which, I should add, only registered Democrats were allowed to vote; any accusation of sabotage would be groundless) he suffered a stroke, a jarring neurologic injury by which men in far better physical condition than he are, in even the best of cases, significantly damaged and derailed.
Unapprised of the severity of his condition, Pennsylvania’s Democrats decided to pass on the more moderate, mainstream, youthful, Ivy-League wunderkind, Conor Lamb, who has represented the state’s 17th congressional district in the House since 2019. Assured that Fetterman, the rustic radical, was, in the wake of his stroke, not entirely destitute of his cognitive faculties, Pennsylvanians awarded him with a 400,000 vote advantage over the lackluster Lamb. In comparison, Mehmet Oz, the celebrity outsider upon whom President Trump bestowed his magical endorsement, defeated his better-qualified Republican competitor, Dave McCormick, by fewer than 1,000 votes.
Through the course of the summer, when candidates for high office leap at every opportunity to make their visages seen, and their messages heard, Fetterman was nowhere to be found. He remained, for some unexplained reason, hidden away and mostly quiet. Campaign messages were communicated via Tweet and email, while public appearances were as brief as they were rare. It was as though he’d adopted the old “basement campaign” strategy of which an elderly and, frankly, painfully unexciting Joe Biden availed himself in the long summer of 2020. It’s the type of campaign technique that our earliest statesmen employed, who thought it undignified to scurry all around the state, knock on cabin doors, and beg for the suffrage of some illiterate, toothless bumpkin.
Of Fetterman’s reason for avoiding the campaign trail, Pennsylvanians were kept, on the whole, ignorant. This, you’ll note, is no small feat, especially in an age in which cellphone cameras are ubiquitous, and those wielding them are, to put it mildly, unhesitant to use them. Those who raised questions about his medical status and the therapy (speech, physical, or cognitive) that he might be undergoing, were dismissed out of hand. Those who requested a formal note from a medical doctor, by whose unbiased assessment, one might hope, Fetterman’s fitness to serve might be decided, were accused of undue nosiness, ableism, and of being impolite.
Slowly, and despite every effort by the legacy media to conceal it, the severity of Fetterman’s condition came more widely to be known. Almost every thought to which he publicly gave voice was unintelligible. No-one really understood what he was trying to say. It was unclear, in fact, if Fetterman even understood the meaning of his own prattling. Only two groups of people, the most sympathetic listeners and sycophantic supporters, could feign comprehension of the strange pronouncements to which he gave voice, and make something, anything, out of his confused and directionless babbling. As if fluent in this new language of the afflicted, these captive partisans just smiled, cheered when cued to do so, and nodded along.
In truth, though, Fetterman’s grammar was gone, and his syntax forsaken. Lines from James Joyce’s Ulysses suddenly became, in comparison to the stream of incoherent nonsense pouring out of Fetterman’s mouth, lucid, simple, and cogent. In a worse-than Joycean jumble, Fetterman searched for words that, like nimble little imps, continually evaded his grasp. The onus was now on the auditor, the potential voter, to guess at what he was trying, and consistently failing, to say.
Just as videos of his speaking began to circulate and unnerve voters, a very friendly physician, a one Dr. Clifford Chen, produced a so-called “medical report” by which the low-spirited among those on his side of the political divide might be buoyed. I say “his side” because, as it happens, Dr. Chen has spent many years, and many thousands of dollars, contributing to Democratic candidates for public office. In fact, as recently as 2021, he donated $1300 to Fetterman’s campaign, betraying, I think, the incorruptible standard, immune to all venality and partisanship, to which we typically hold our doctors.
And then…the debate came.
For months, Fetterman’s team wisely declined subjecting its infirm candidate to a televised debate with the vivacious, fast-talking, ginkgo biloba-hawking, sharply-dressed Dr. Oz, by whom, in keeping with the best of our democratic traditions, he was repeatedly and cordially challenged. Until it became inexpedient for his continuing to do so, Fetterman refused to participate in a debate that would, in short order and humiliating fashion, expose his linguistic, cognitive, and political shortcomings.
Caught between the Scylla of refusing to debate, and looking like a big, bald craven chicken, and the Charybdis of debating and having his infirmity exposed (and his name tarnished, and his political fortunes dashed), Fetterman opted for the latter: he’d steer his vessel directly into the teeth of Charybdis, by which, in the most horribly mortifying display of incontinence I’ve ever seen, he was completely swallowed up.
At long last, the good people of Pennsylvania, although kept ignorant of Fetterman’s condition for the entirety of the summer, were given a glimpse of the truth. And, unlike their benighted neighbors in the far-off land of New Jersey, they were able to grasp this truth. Sadly, though, this is a state in which hundreds of thousands of people have already voted (one of the ill consequences, I think, of early voting). They were kept ignorant of Fetterman’s condition just long enough for them to weigh their options, check his name, and submit, without the chance of a “do-over”, their final ballot.
As things now stand, they can grasp the truth, but it might be too late. Keep people in state of ignorance long enough, and anything is possible, even the election to high office of a demonstrably unfit, unwell, and debilitated man.
*I mean no offense to the good people of New Jersey, with whom I share a place of birth. If the People are Kept Ignorant, Anything is Possible