Thursday, October 27, 2022


Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman of Pennsylvania demonstrated that he is not a good debater. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that in the Senate debate, Fetterman "appeared less polished than his" opposition and was "uncomfortable" with "frequent criticism." He had, as noted, "campaigned in a way that had, until now, largely shielded him from scrutiny on a big stage."

Those words were written on April 22 the day after the primary debate among Fetterman, Representative Conor Lamb, and State Senator Malcolm Kenyatta.

Soon afterward, and shortly before the primary he won, the Lieutenant Governor suffered a stroke, effects of which were evident at the faceoff Tuesday night.

That may- or may not- have been why Fetterman did not jump on Mehmet Oz's now infamous remark

As a physician, I’ve been in the room when there’s some difficult conversations happening. I don’t want the federal government involved with that at all. I want women, doctors, local political leaders letting the democracy that’s always allowed our nation to thrive to put the best ideas forward so states can decide for themselves.

Local political leaders? Picture a tearful of fearful pregnant woman in an office with her doctor and, say, Senator Ted Cruz- or perhaps Q Anon- adjacent Doug Mastriano, who will remain a Pennsylvania state senator after he loses the gubernatorial race to Democrat Josh Shapiro in two weeks. Better yet would have been Fetterman himself painting that picture.

Some of us are not quick on our feet. However, that's no excuse not to have prepared a pithy remark or two to undermine Mehmet Oz. 

When 37 seconds in, Fetterman stated "Send Dr. Oz back to New Jersey," that should not have been the high point of the debate for the Democrat. Yet, in the next 59 minutes and 23 seconds, the candidate whose social media feed once relentlessly slammed Oz for living outside of Pennsylvania, did not again utter "New Jersey."

Alex Norcia in The New York Times Magazine noted 7-8 weeks ago that the Fetterman campaign was (effectively) portraying Oz as "something that is, both regionally and nationwide, way more loathed: a guy from New Jersey."  He explained

It is, specifically, the idea that Oz is from New Jersey — a place that the rest of the country finds annoying and distasteful, and whose neighbors find it especially so — that resonates above all else....

Outsiders tend to see an obnoxious land of corrupt lawmakers, oil refineries and expensive tolls, the area you pass through on your way from Philadelphia to New York City.

It is a largely misleading stereotype, but worse yet (though unmentioned by Norcia): Oz is from north Jersey, the home of the "New York" Giants and "New York" Jets. Nonetheless, Fetterman made only a feeble effort on Tuesday night to connect his opponent to Pennsylvania's neighbor to the east. One possibility would have been  "I'd like your vote to continue fighting for Pennsylvanians, as I have as Lieutenant Governor. Mehmet Oz wants to be the third Senator from New Jersey."

There was at least one more failure. Appropriately, the debate's moderators referred to "Mr. Oz" and "Mr. Fetterman" while the Democratic candidate, incomprehensibly, referred to "Dr. Oz," rendering the Republican the legitimacy he arguably does not deserve and inarguably should not be granted by his opponent. Moreover, in this informal age, in which people often dress casually for church and funerals, hug rather than shake hands, and address strangers by their first name, there is no good reason for an opponent not to call Oz "Mehmet."  None.

John Fetterman may yet prevail in this race. However, it is one which should not have been close, stroke or not.


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