I can identify with John Fetterman

Oh, not because neither he nor I seem to own any grownup, run-for-the-Senate-type clothes, although I can understand you getting that impression.

I’m sitting here wearing:

  • Cargo shorts (although this pair is fairly new, just ordered from Amazon a couple of months ago, unlike the ones that are full of holes).
  • My brown Yesterday’s T-shirt, which I admit is getting old — its logo celebrates the tavern’s 30th anniversary, which was 14 years back. But it’s now a collector’s item!
  • My sandals I bought at Walmart for about six dollars more than 15 years ago (I recently bought another, similar pair, but they’re not nearly as comfortable as these).
  • And not much else. (I won’t get into underwear, although I just bought these skivvies, too).

And of course, John Fetterman… well, just look at pretty much any picture out there of him. Dressing like a slob is part of his populist shtick. He’s really into hoodies.

But this similarity is transitory. Most of my life I wore a coat and tie pretty much every day. I dress the way I do now because I don’t intend to go work in an office again, ever. But if I lost my mind and decided to run for the U.S. Senate, or pretty much any elective office, I’d get back in uniform — out of respect for the office, and for the voters. And to make sure no one mistakes me for a populist.

Then, of course, both of us have a penchant for distracting facial hair. But I shaved off the beard just before my brother-in-law’s funeral (which happened to fall on Election Day 2020), and I’d do so again, were I to run for office. Voters are likely to have enough problems with me without being mesmerized by this. I might even go back to shaving every day.

No, it’s not those things. I’m identifying with the guy on a different level:

Pennsylvania Democrat John Fetterman’s Senate campaign said Wednesday that his stroke recovery, which has complicated his ability to engage in verbal conversations, could influence his plans for debates with Republican nominee Mehmet Oz in one of this fall’s highest-stakes races.

“We are working to figure out what a fair debate would look like with the lingering impacts of the auditory processing in mind,” Fetterman campaign strategist Rebecca Katz said. “To be absolutely clear, the occasional issues he is having with auditory processing have no bearing on his ability to do the job as senator. John is healthy and fully capable of showing up and doing the work.”…

You see, I, too, have lasting effects from my own stroke (which was enough without the stupid “long COVID”), and have big-time trouble following human speech when there are other sounds going on around me.

Of course, in my case these are two different things:

  1. As a result of my stroke, I have these things I call “nap attacks” (although a neurologist told me they’re called “sleep attacks”) pretty much every day. Some days, especially if I make the mistake of getting up early in the morning, I have two of them. I just get to a point, sitting her at my desk, when my brain tells me, Can’t do this any more — lie down and closer your eyes, NOW! Within five minutes, I’m in my recliner in a deep slumber, with dreams and everything. Then, after an hour or so, I gradually wake up, and Thank GOD I don’t have anything incapacitating, like losing the ability to walk or talk. Anyway, I have this lesser problem because I had a bilateral thalamic stroke. Those are fairly unusual. If the stroke hits one side of the thalamus, you’re good. If it hits both sides, you’re taking a lot of naps.
  2. The inability to intelligibly separate human speech from the background isn’t a stroke thing. It’s my hearing. Remember how a decade ago, Ménière’s mostly wiped out the hearing in my right ear? Well, I finally got hearing aids early this year, and they helped in some ways — especially if just one person is speaking to me, clearly and facing me, without a distracting background.

But anyway, put together my stroke thing and my hearing thing, and I can really identify with Fetterman’s stroke thing. It’s a problem, especially when other people don’t understand it.

And yet, I agree with his campaign that his problems should have “no bearing on his ability to do the job as senator.”

Frankly, I even think we go a little overboard in worrying about the health of presidents. I’ve thought that ever since we were obsessing over the polyps in Reagan’s colon back in the mid-80s. I really could have done without that, especially when I was eating at my desk.

Sure, you want the president to be healthy, all other things being equal. And presidents have to deal with things of literal earth-shaking importance suddenly, at any hour of the day or night. But… if the president is incapacitated, we have detailed procedures for both temporary and permanent succession. And even if he’s just trying to get a good night’s sleep, we have the biggest, most expert national security apparatus in the history of the world, manned by extremely well-trained people ready to react effectively and instantaneously, any time of any day or night.

And the Senate? Are you kidding me? Look how often those people don’t even show up for work on the Senate floor! I think we can wait until the nap is over — or until there’s time for a clear-speaking aide to explain to Fetterman what all those people were yelling about back in that room a few minutes earlier.

Mind you, I’m not making an argument that I’m ready to run for the Senate, or for anything. Right now, between the stroke thing, the fact that my Ménière’s started getting worse over the summer, the long COVID, and just being 68 years old, I wouldn’t work in somebody else’s campaign again, much less run myself.

But I don’t see how Fetterman’s stroke problem disqualifies him

6 thoughts on “I can identify with John Fetterman

  1. Barry

    I think the physical and health issues are actually a positive for him. Lots of folks can relate to that instead of someone that has tried to sell ludicrous health ideas and supplements for years and years.

    BTW- Wonderful Biden speech last night. Even better to hear those that defended Trump’s insults for 4+ years whining about it. That’s the icing on the cake.

  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    Whenever this thing about politicians wearing ties or not wearing ties comes up, I think of a certain moment in the 2018 campaign, and it makes me smile.

    I was in the Suburban talking to James just before the big presser we had on the parking lot of the abandoned Walmart in Winnsboro. I’d been there for awhile, getting things ready and dealing with the gratifyingly large group of reporters who had shown up. James had just arrived, I think, and was about to get out and do the thing. I had handed him the talking points I had prepared. (During that whole campaign, I never wrote a speech for James, but sometimes he liked to have talking points, just to make sure he didn’t forget anything he particularly wanted to say.)

    This was the thing about the TV plant that was closing because of Trump’s Ji-na tariffs.

    Aside from the fact that this was about showing concern for blue-collar workers, it was also August and really, really hot out on that pavement. I would realize later that in the short time I’d been there, I’d already gotten sunburned.

    Just before getting out, James asked me a question: “Should I wear the tie or not?” He wasn’t even thinking of wearing his coat, of course.

    For about half a second, I just stared at him thinking, “What am I, a wardrobe consultant?” I mean hell, I didn’t know. I then thought something like, What would Bobby Kennedy do? That being sort of the vibe I thought we’d want at such a moment. Sometimes he didn’t wear a tie, right? Or was I just thinking of this image, when he kept it on, even with his sleeves rolled up? Sometimes, he even mixed with the adoring multitude with his coat on, buttoned!

    Of course, times have changed. But how do I feel about that? I do abhor bogus populism…

    At the end of that half-second, I unfroze: “Just loosen it.” So he did. Maybe no tie would have been better, but I think it worked OK.

    That’s the only time he asked me anything like that. It kinda felt like a test. I don’t know whether I got it right, but he didn’t fire me, so….

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I didn’t mean to sound omniscient there. During that half second, I was actually picturing RFK tieless, his sleeves rolled up, reaching out to his crowd of supporters. I thought that was the way he rolled. I thought I’d seen such a picture 100 times. But when I looked as I was typing the above comment, I couldn’t find it. I just found ones like this

      1. Barry

        Respectfully Brad, not sure I have heard anyone mention caring about a tie in a long time.

        Slow day?

        Seems like there are tons of issues out there worth mentioning over what James Smith decided to wear in a Winnsboro parking lot 4 years ago.

        Bit hey, if that is what you are interested in, that’s what you are interested in.

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