Many years ago, we knew a family that had a little boy around my age.
I never wanted to spend time with Richard, because he was deaf, and couldn’t communicate clearly. But one day, my father essentially threatened that if I didn’t play him, I’d be punished.
Across the half-century since then, I realize that empathy for someone with a disability is the sine qua non of being human.
But that doesn’t mean that we ignore disability when it has a very real, very relevant impact on issues of importance, issues as who should be going to Washington to represent us in the Senate.
As we all now know, even though it was initially and deliberately hidden by the candidate, John Fetterman suffered a life-threatening stroke in May. He is still in the recovery phase and has refused to release medical records, which would establish just how far along he is in that recovery.
Fetterman continues to insist that he’s gotten a clean bill of health from his physician, the same one he ignored five years ago when told of a serious heart condition that might lead to a stroke. He keeps pointing to a letter from that doctor, a letter that is almost six months old, as proof that he’s fine.
But he’s not fine. You don’t have to be a neurosurgeon or a cardiac specialist like Fetterman’s opponent, Mehmet Oz, to see that he is struggling to communicate and comprehend. He admits to using a teleprompter to help translate questions for him.
In carefully curated television ads, he sounds perfectly fine, and his online persona — which is very likely crafted by campaign staff — is clever, snarky and hip. The Fetterman served up in controlled doses is every bit the Fetterman that presided over the Pennsylvania legislature with no tie, jacket and tattoos flashing.
However, when caught in spontaneous moments and asked questions by sympathetic journalists, he struggles. His team insists that it’s simply an auditory issue and not something that reflects a brain deficiency, but there are no actual medical records to prove it.
He won’t release them.
And the media have thrown their full support behind the guy by refusing to insist on those records and instead, spinning a narrative that critiques of his health are bigoted, cruel, and partisan.
I’d agree with the partisan accusation. The GOP goal is to keep him from taking that Senate seat and helping Biden gain a 51-seat majority. The goal is to keep his radical policies from destroying the commonwealth. The goal, quite clearly, is to neutralize him politically.
What I refuse to concede is the bigotry or cruelty. Putting aside the Americans With Disabilities Act, it’s fair to suggest that putting a man with a significant medical disability in such a sensitive position of authority is reckless.
Some point to the fact that Tammy Duckworth, who lost her legs while piloting a helicopter in the military and Madison Cawthorne, who was paralyzed in an accident and used a wheelchair and Arlen Specter, who served while fighting cancer are examples that you don’t have to be perfectly healthy to be able to perform competently.
What they’re forgetting is that Duckworth lost her legs in service to her country, Cawthorne had a freak accident and Specter was completely transparent and forthcoming about his problems.
Fetterman had a stroke very likely because he ignored the advice of his doctor, and covered it up until he couldn’t. That’s a sign of recklessness and a lack of judgment that disqualifies him from office.
And that’s the point.
It isn’t the disability so much as it is the failure to come clean. It isn’t the disability so much as it is the attempts by friendly media and supporters to deflect attention. It isn’t the disability so much as it is the attempts to turn this whole thing into a referendum on bigotry.
My friend Jason had this to say on the subject:
“After I lost most of my hearing because of meningitis, I accepted the fact that there were some jobs that I simply couldn’t do, such as police officer, which I was on track to becoming until I got sick at 19. Fetterman needs to come to this same realization.”
That shows humility, and wisdom, two things Fetterman and his supporters clearly don’t have.
Copyright 2022 Christine Flowers, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.
Christine Flowers is an attorney and a columnist for the Delaware County Daily Times, and can be reached at [email protected].