The only debate in Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate race was one of the more genial we have seen this cycle. Granted, one of the candidates was fighting with himself the whole time.
To John Fetterman’s credit, his disability actually doesn’t matter that much. The state’s lieutenant governor showed why on stage Tuesday night: by electing him, voters can expect nothing more and nothing less than a barely functioning partisan robot, a rubber stamp for the progressive agenda. Any moron could do that job. But is that what Pennsylvania wants? A less accomplished version of Joe Biden, with an even more dubious claim to “working-class Pennsylvania guy” status?
Fetterman, who suffered a stroke in May, spoke in chopped, rudimentary sentences, and went totally blank at one point. As his Republican opponent, Dr. Mehmet Oz, was giving his closing statement, Fetterman interrupted: “You’re going to cut Social Security!” He looked and sounded like he had escaped from Frankenstein’s laboratory, but his team was going for “Tiny Tim.” (One curious effect of Fetterman’s stroke appears to be a misplaced sense of time: in a jarring moment, Fetterman actually used the term “illegals,” momentarily transporting viewers back to 2006, when Democrats still pretended to care about sovereignty.) He tried to connect his failure to communicate normally to the struggles of ordinary people, and spoke to the plight of “signal moms” living paycheck to paycheck.
It was a freakish and deceitful spectacle. This guy is not Tiny Tim, he is a lazy, vicious demagogue with some seriously dangerous ideas about crime, and he wants to be a United States senator. Democrats are betting they can use Fetterman’s physical weakness to cloak his morally degenerate character, and paint him as a harmless victim, rather than as the menace he really is. They had been testing this “you must vote for the disabled guy or else” argument for weeks, as Fetterman’s health came under the microscope ahead of the debate.
Sure enough, Fetterman’s cognitive problem overshadowed what proved to be a very superficial night, and to Fetterman’s benefit. His dangerous record on crime is the really disqualifying thing about him, but this key issue was discussed for all of two minutes. When it briefly came up, Fetterman diverted to a red herring about “gun violence”—that is, gun control—and moderators failed to follow up. That’s a real disservice to voters and to Oz, who did his best to attack Fetterman’s radical positions whenever he could.
Oz was his smooth, confident, telegenic, slightly unctuous, self. He did a fine job selling himself as a reasonable moderate and cut easily through Fetterman’s weak attempts to posture as anti-crime. While Fetterman repeated lifeless talking points and attack lines about Oz’s wealth, Oz was a gentleman, and mostly stuck to the issues. He barely mentioned the stroke. He showed about as much restraint as could have been expected under the circumstances, not that any more aggression would have been advised. The one thing Oz needed to do was not be too rough on Tiny Tim, and he succeeded.
A person of sound judgment would walk away thinking Fetterman blew it. But Democrats, being the party of weakness and resentment, are naturally spinning Fetterman’s struggling performance as a moral victory. They are probably right to surmise that such sentimental appeals carry weight with some voters. After all, they managed to push another benign-looking, potato-brained hack past the finish line in 2020 by whispering the right platitudes. According to official figures, Joe Biden received 81 million votes.
A completely degenerate electorate might see something in a deadbeat like John Fetterman, a man who, as Oz politely reminded viewers, was living off his parents until middle age. This was really Fetterman’s whole bit: vote for me, I’m a loser. This Oz guy is successful, and don’t you just hate that?
The question is whether Pennsylvannians pity Fetterman, and themselves, enough to send this nobody to Washington.