Why reviews of Fetterman’s debate performance were 'oddly disconnected' from Americans’ experience with illness in office

Why reviews of Fetterman’s debate performance were 'oddly disconnected' from Americans’ experience with illness in office
Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman in 2019 (Wikimedia Commons)

When Democratic Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and Republican Mehmet Oz debated for the first time on Tuesday night, October 25, Fetterman was candid about the fact that he was still recovering from the effects of a debilitating stroke he suffered in May — a stroke that, Fetterman noted, Oz’s campaign has “never let me forget about.” Right-wing pundits, following the debate, were quick to pose the question: Is Fetterman, in light of the stroke, fit to serve in the U.S. Senate?

But liberal MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell, during an October 26 commentary, stressed that Fetterman is hardly the first politician who has battled major health problems and why the stroke wouldn’t prevent Fetterman from functioning in a “deliberative” body like the U.S. Senate.

To illustrate his point, O’Donnell opened the commentary by noting that U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill battled one health problem after another — from pneumonia to atrial fibrillation to a stroke — yet is still “widely regarded” as the “greatest British prime minister in history.” And in the United States, O’Donnell added, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt suffered numerous health problems yet won two terms as governor of New York State before winning four presidential elections in a row.

READ MORE: 'Ableist propaganda': Media condemned for criticizing John Fetterman's use of closed captioning

O’Donnell told viewers, “But Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill had the good fortune to serve as the highest elected officials in their countries long before television news could cover their every move and long before Twitter could have people pumping out their instant reactions to their public appearances…. Kids grew up in America during the FDR presidency not knowing that the president could not walk.”

Fetterman, O’Donnell noted, “has not fully recovered 100 percent of his verbal fluency” — and after the debate, the phrase “it was painful to watch” was repeated by many pundits. O’Donnell commented that what was really “painful to watch” in the October 25 debate was hearing Oz state his oppressive positions on abortion.

O’Donnell stressed, “The painful-to-watch reviews last night seemed oddly disconnected (from) this country’s own experience with illness in elected office, including two members of the United States Senate who had strokes this year…. Sen. Bernie Sanders had a heart attack three years ago when he was running for president…. You don’t have to reach all the way back to Franklin Delano Roosevelt to find serious health problems in the White House. In the 21st Century, we had a vice president who had four heart attacks before he became vice president. Dick Cheney’s first heart attack was when he was 37 years old.”

READ MORE: John Fetterman and the last consequence-free stigma: How Mehmet Oz weaponized ableism

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