In the 2022 midterm elections, John Fetterman flipped a Senate seat blue in Pennsylvania, a massive win for the Democratic Party. At the encouragement of his students, Fetterman began his journey as the mayor of Braddock in 2005. For 13 years, Fetterman has worked tirelessly to transform the town into an area where local youth have resources that encourage them to engage with their community. After his time as Mayor, Fetterman became Pennsylvania’s Lieutenant Governor, where his focus was shrinking the wage gap and criminal justice reform. In addition, he spoke outwardly about legalizing marijuana. Finally, with several years of political experience, he took on the challenge of running against Dr. Mehmet Oz for Senator and prevailed.
While Fetterman won his seat in the 2020 elections, his path to victory was stunted by the stroke he suffered amidst his campaign, which occurred just a few days before the primary election. As a result, Fetterman developed an auditory processing disorder, which disrupts how one understands the information they hear. Fetterman prefaced the debate against Oz on October 25, 2022 by saying his health conditions may cause awkward phrasing due to using a teleprompter. Though Fetterman knew that his auditory processing disorder would be a hurdle to overcome, he assured the audience he would keep this from getting in the way of the future of the election.
Fetterman’s team revealed that the stroke led to a sense of humility between Fetterman and the citizens who were fond of him from the beginning. In politics, health conditions of any severity have historically concerned the people who intend to vote for the affected person. However, despite what was going on, the support and respect he gained throughout his campaign were incredible, as evidenced by his victory in early November.
That said, it is not to say that Fetterman’s stroke did not create hurdles for him in his campaign. Oz’s campaign ran advertisements that used Fetterman’s health condition to their advantage, including a derogatory statement insinuating that Fetterman’s stroke was caused by his poor dietary habits and that he was dishonest about it. Fetterman later addressed and remarked, “My recovery may be a joke to Dr. Oz and his team, but it’s real for me.” Though this was highly upsetting conduct by the Oz campaign, Fetterman triumphed, thus showing his supporters that he wasn’t going anywhere. He kept an online presence, even if he couldn’t be physically present.
Fetterman’s win was crucial for the Democrats, who gained a long-held Republican seat in Congress. Moreover, it indicates that medical challenges or emergencies do not define a politician’s intelligence or eligibility. Fetterman went into the debate with Oz amid recovering, knowing that it was what he had to do for his campaign’s future and policies. He focused on the issues in a five-step plan: eliminating price gouging, cutting taxes for working people, banning Congress from trading stocks, eliminating out-of-pocket healthcare costs, and making more goods in America.
Even though Republicans at the time of the election were heavily concerned about the health of Fetterman, he made sure to let the public know that he was feeling better by the day. Moreover, throughout his campaign, he was highly transparent about his health and recovery. Though there were skeptics, his determination when life unexpectedly threw health issues at him gave his supporters a new respect for Fetterman. Such support is particularly refreshing, as this experience had people concerned that a hiccup in the debate could have harmed his credibility as a candidate.
Fetterman’s win shows significant progress regarding the standard treatment of people with medical conditions or disabilities in politics. A stroke does not change who he is, and the fact that people could move past that and focus on his policies and resiliency is refreshing to see. Specifically, the victory of Fetterman in the recent elections is a significant step towards a more humane approach to treating individuals with medical conditions or disabilities in politics, especially in the United States. Despite the tendencies of US politics to resort to immature attacks against opponents, Fetterman’s resilience in the face of his stroke is a powerful testament to the progress being made. Although his opponents, such as Oz and his supporters, resorted to dehumanizing tactics, Fetterman’s policies and determination prevailed, highlighting a positive societal trend. Fetterman, the “social worker who holds a public office,” opposed calling himself a politician. Dislike of the word politician reiterates that he wants to bridge a connection with the community around him and make it known that he is just a person, like the citizens he represents. His willingness to openly display his humanity, including his health issues, tattoos, and clothing choices, has garnered attention and support from Pennsylvania and nationwide. In this way, Fetterman’s story embodies the progress toward treating all individuals with dignity and respect, regardless of their background or medical conditions.