Saturday, September 23, 2023

Brilliantly Reprehensible

Easy answer(s): no, and yes..

Senator Fetterman has accepted the accommodations the US Senate has, as it should, made to enable him to function fully as a Senator after the stroke he suffered when running for the seat. He deserves, and has deserved, a chance. However, his stroke was not a choice; his wardrobe is a choice.  

For those living under a rock, The New York Times helpfully explains

The recent decision by Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, to relax the Senate’s informal dress code and allow members to enter the chamber in casual attire, or even gym clothes, has set off waves of consternation and cries of dismay in the stuffy upper chamber. Many senators, mostly Republicans, have publicly expressed concerns along the same lines as Mr. Vance’s, and privately have said that the change could harm America’s standing on the international stage....

The new rules, which direct the sergeant-at-arms to no longer enforce the longstanding dress code for members, appear to have been changed mainly to accommodate Mr. Fetterman. Since returning to the Senate after being hospitalized for depression, Mr. Fetterman has refused to squeeze his hulking, 6-foot-8 frame into a suit, navigating the Capitol instead in airy basketball shorts and oversized sweatshirts. The rule change will now allow him to enter the chamber, and even preside over it, in his preferred state of dishevelment, which doubles as a way to signal his blue-collar, outsider status.

Kudos to Mr. Fetterman, who understands the tenor of the times, similarly to Volodmyr Zelenskyy, who showed up at the United Nations while dressed casually to suggest a military man of the people, in the trenches with the soldiers he commands.  As Fetterman no doubt understands, he himself is projecting an image of an auto mechanic in Sheboygan or, better yet for his career, Stroudsburg, Pa.

Fetterman is handling his personal trait of laziness and slovenliness quite effectively, with humor and without a defense of his behavior. (In the words of a famous con man, "if you're explaining, you're losing.")  The Times noted

“Thankfully, the nation’s lower chamber lives by a higher code of conduct: displaying ding-a-ling pics in a public hearing,” Mr. Fetterman replied, referencing Ms. (Marjorie Taylor) Greene’s move during a recent House committee hearing to display oversized nude photos of the president’s son, Hunter Biden, engaged in sex acts. 

And in a stroke of genius, the Pennsylvania senator tweeted (X'ed out?) to his colleagues a challenge they cannot accept when he remarked "If those jagoffs in the House stop tryng to shut our government down, and fully support Ukraine, then I will save democracy by wearing a suit on the Senate floor next week." The combination of sound policy, sarcasm, and salty language from the elementary school playground wins the day.

Fetterman isn't dressing casually because, whatever he might suggest, he believes the issues of the day are far more important than clothing. He is making a conscious choice to dress down to make a statement. Recognizing the mood of the American people, he is giving a middle finger to the Majority Leader, tradition, mores, and the notion that dressing respectably in formal, important situations (such as the Senate floor) conveys respect for colleagues and the people one represents.

It would be better if Chuck Schumer had the courage to eliminate the dress code, rather than expecting the responsible members of the chamber to adhere to a non-code code while a few others let their freak flags fly. It would be even better if the Majority Leader were to relax the rules for everyone working in the Senate rather than merely for the elite 100.  The last word goes to Senator Sherrod Brown, who understands that genuine populism is more- different than, really- than virtue signaling with something as superficial as clothing.  Recognizing that the change in enforcement won't affect Senate staffers, the Ohio Democrat stated "if we are allowed to dress casually, they should be allowed to dress casually. To me, it's a dignity of work issue."

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