I went into this sole Pennsylvania senatorial debate tonight with my tribal war paint on my cheeks. I was ready to take no prisoners. I wanted to capture Gettysburg, both literally and figuratively. I was ready to win.
And 60 seconds into the broadcast, one which only a very limited audience could view, my heart dropped. When John Fetterman looked into the camera and said “Good night,” I realized he was about to intone his own eulogy. And it got progressively (no pun intended) worse.
We all knew, we Pennsylvania voters, that the Democratic candidate had suffered a life-threatening injury a few months ago. What we didn’t know was the extent and nature of its impact on his cognitive skills. We were told by nervous and dishonest political operatives that he was recovering well from the stroke that almost killed him. We were assured that his residual problems were superficial and had nothing to do with his mental reasoning or his capacity to comprehend. We were promised that those close captions he demanded as a concession for debating Oz were merely to help him hear, not to understand.
And then we saw him, alone on that stage without his omnipresent wife, Gisele, running interference and challenging anyone who questioned his fitness with vague threats. And it was a prelude to some Halloween slasher film: horrific.
READ MORE — Leslie Sattler: What John Fetterman’s debate performance says about wife Gisele
Fetterman performed so poorly, even he could not do a rhetorical limbo under a bar set unfairly low for him. He stammered. He gazed vacantly into the distance, collecting thoughts that would not come. He repeated platitudes devoid of detail about his concern for the working man. He contradicted himself, Fetterman who opposes fracking against Fetterman who supports it. He tried to harness the power of the aggrieved feminists with his insistence that he’d protect the right to choose…an abortion. He never mentioned the privilege of bearing a child. He floundered on how he’d bring down tuition costs, refused to even answer a question about releasing his medical records, and kept attacking his opponent Mehmet Oz for bad commercials. He was, even by the generous standards of a friendly media corps, an unmitigated disaster.
And I watched, and at first became elated at how poorly he’d done. I channeled that warrior spirit and prepared to claim some scalps. And even though Oz wasn’t brilliant, I exulted in his semi-brilliance when seen in comparison with Fetterman.
But then, I stopped. The political became the personal. I looked at a man who was lost on a stage, alone with thoughts so jumbled he couldn’t capture them even for the brief span of a television hour. His eyes had the fevered glint of a trapped animal, his posture looked pained, his voice was thin. This was a sick man.
And I thought of his ambitious wife, pushing him onward despite his infirmity.
I thought of doctors who were Democratic donors and prostituted their judgment for some political advantage.
I thought of campaign operatives desperate to hide what could not be hidden forever, hoping to beat the electoral clock.
I thought of the Fetterman children, deprived of a father at time they needed him most, and he them.
I thought of my tribe, justifiably angry conservatives who forgot their humanity to celebrate the landing of that shot, that harpoon, that heavy blow against our political enemy. We, collective Ahabs had speared our whale.
And I cried. I hate everything Fetterman represents. I hate the people who love him. They are anathema, and toxic. And yet, I cried for a man, not a movement.
Politics is cruel. Tonight showed that, in technicolor terms.
John Fetterman must go home. He deserves better. So do we.
Christine Flowers is an attorney and lifelong Philadelphian. @flowerlady61