". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


The Un-Senator

September 26, 2023

John Fetterman should not be a United States Senator.

Of course, his extreme leftism — for example, his unapologetic endorsement of abortion through the ninth month of pregnancy — and his (now typical for Democrats) allegiance to extra-constitutional governance should be enough to make his presence in the Senate a political impossibility. Sadly, of course, they have not.

But there are other reasons why he should leave the office he now occupies.

For one thing, Fetterman’s studied effort to portray himself as a champion of the proverbial “working man” rings hollow. The simple reason is that Fetterman seems not to enjoy actually working. An Associated Press review of Fetterman’s daily calendars and state Senate attendance records shows that during his four years as Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor, Fetterman “typically kept a light work schedule and was often absent from state business, including presiding over the state Senate, which is one of his chief duties.” For this, Pennsylvania’s champion of those who struggle earned nearly $180,000 annually. This, in a state where the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that median per capita income is about $38,000.

The AP also found that “Fetterman’s daily schedule was blank during roughly one-third of workdays from January 2019, when he first took office, to May of (2022), when he suffered a serious stroke. Even on days where his schedule showed he was active, a typical workday for Fetterman lasted between four and five hours, the records show.”

As mayor of Braddock, Pa. (population 1,700) for 13 years, Fetterman chose to have his family live in an old warehouse abetted by a couple of shipping containers for more floorspace. While his commitment to Braddock seems to have been quite genuine, he also evidently saw himself as a political missionary needing support. Earning less than $2,000 annually, Fetterman relied on his wealthy dad for income. As late as 2015, his father gave him $54,000 — not a princely sum, but did the now-senator see himself as so indispensable to Braddock’s interests that he couldn’t earn a paycheck?

In addition to all of this, there is the senator’s continued display of identification with life’s supposed underdogs, Fetterman affects his disdain for professional attire by slumming his way through the halls of the U.S. Senate. So now, in yet another spasm of the Left’s obeisance to culture’s ongoing downgrade, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the upper chamber’s gift to hipsterism, has announced, “Senators are able to choose what they wear on the Senate floor. I will continue to wear a suit.”

As to this last promise, we can sigh with relief. The image of Chuck Schumer shimmering through the marble halls of the Senate in flip-flops and a hoodie is too disturbing to contemplate.

Thankfully, the response of Schumer’s “I’m down with that” dictum has been bipartisan — and decidedly hostile. Schumer’s number two, befuddled Illinois Democrat Richard Durbin (Ill.), commented, “I can’t understand exactly what he [Schumer] was thinking at that point.” An indignant John Cornyn (R-Texas) said, “Sen. Schumer has done just about everything he can to destroy the traditions of the Senate, everything from eliminating the filibuster rule to now this. And for what? To accommodate one person who doesn’t like to put on a suit?” Even the Washington Post’s editorial board is disgusted by Fetterman’s display of puerile post-teenagerism. “The get-up veers so far into the grunge zone, in fact, that the Pennsylvania Democrat probably couldn’t wear it to work as a teacher in many schools or as an employee in a lot of fast-food chains.” 

The Senate can be a stodgy, unctuous place. While working there in the early 1990s, I got the sense that then-Senator Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) would have liked his colleagues to wear togas and memorize the collected works of Marcus Aurelius. But there’s a difference between self-importance and a healthy sense of dignity. Among most of us, this is intuitive.

The Senate is not what the Founders once envisioned, but it is still one of our last links to reasoned debate in a free republic. A place where, for nearly 250 years, the nation’s, and often the world’s, most profound issues have been debated merits more than a guy who looks like a 7-Eleven shift manager.

Fetterman’s response? “I don’t understand it. Like, aren’t there more important things we should be working on right now instead of, you know, that I might be dressing like a slob?” This assertion is so asinine it pleads for derision: It is precisely because he dresses like a slob — his term, not mine — that he is distracting his colleagues from “more important things.” Like, yeah.

Having worked in a labor union for about seven years while in high school and later while attending theological seminary, I met a lot of people who knew what manual and semi-skilled labor was and whose difficulties in life offered them little recourse but to persevere in it. I wonder if John Fetterman has a clue what this kind of life really is.

I have been tougher on Senator Fetterman in this piece than I almost ever am on public figures or anyone else. His ongoing recovery from a major stroke and a courageous public battle against clinical depression show a resolve one can only admire.

Yet Fetterman’s self-display is not just unsettling but shameful. People like Harry Truman and Henry Clay, Arthur Vandenberg and Robert Taft are remembered not for their costumes but their seriousness of purpose and contributions to the well-being of our country. Manners matter, and attire appropriate to the venue is a matter of respect for those around you. Fetterman seemingly has missed these rather ground-floor life lessons.

Baggy shorts and a father’s largesse do not a man make. Demanding that one of the world’s great political institutions bend to your adolescent self-preoccupation shows disdain not just for the Senate but those represented in it. With respect, Senator — grow up.

Rob Schwarzwalder, Ph.D., is Senior Lecturer in Regent University's Honors College.