We are about 3 weeks away from the midterm elections and to date there has been very little by way of substantive discussion of policy by the candidates. On the other hand, there has been extensive posturing, sloganeering and bad argumentation, heavily influenced by insights gleaned from analysis of focus groups.
So let’s talk about Pennsylvania. The results from the Keystone State will be particularly interesting, but not because control of the Senate rests with Pennsylvania voters. It doesn’t. The results will be interesting because there are two elections in Pennsylvania that couldn’t be more different. The gubernatorial race pits a genuinely moderate Democrat (Josh Shapiro) against a tin-foil hat Trumpkin Republican (Doug Mastriano) who insists that the 2020 Presidential election was stolen.
For example, Mr. Shapiro has come out in favor of a private-school choice bill that passed the Republican controlled Pennsylvania state house with only 1 Democratic vote. He is in favor of lowering corporate taxes and spending more money on police. He also disavowed at least some of outgoing governor Tom Wolf’s restrictive Covid policies.
But Shapiro is not exactly an Eagle Scout. He and his allies spent something like $840,000 on ads designed to help Mastriano secure the Republican nomination, the theory being that Mastriano would be a relatively easy opponent to beat in the general election. Leaving aside the ethics of this, it does make all the rhetoric about the supposed threat to democracy more than a little bit suspect.
On the other hand Mr. Mastriano appears to be a true believer. He is all-in on the laughable Trump claim that the 2020 election was stolen. This is where we get into tin-foil hat territory: Mastriano appears to actually believes this nonsense. It isn’t just posturing. At the very least this indicates that his prudential judgement is deeply flawed—and that is being charitable. If he really believes this baloney he certainly doesn’t belong in the Governor’s chair.
Mastriano’s policy positions tend to be on the rightward cultural edge of conventional Republican politics. But his rhetoric tends toward the inflammatory; you might say Trumpian. And his rhetoric suggests that at the very least he is a bit off. One writer from the Atlantic referred to him as “a nutjob”.
It is hard to really pin Mastriano down because he avoids direct contact with the press; his campaign is full of innuendo, and the press, which obviously favors Shapiro, interprets Mastriano’s pronouncements in the least favorable light. So it is difficult to tell what he is really all about. That said, the available evidence suggests the Atlantic writer is probably correct: Mastriano is nuts.
Compare the gubernatorial race with the Senate race. Like the gubernatorial election there is no incumbent. That’s pretty much where the similarity ends. In the gubernatorial race the vacating governor is a Democrat; in the Senate race, the retiring Senator is a Republican.
The Democratic nominee, lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, clobbered his moderate rival, Connor Lamb, in the Democratic primary. He has staked out positions on the far left of the progressive wing of the party. You might say that he is firmly in the AOC camp.
He is, for instance, in favor of a $15 minimum wage; he is opposed to fracking, although he is trying to soft-pedal earlier remarks. According to his website he is going to hold Washington “accountable” through his 5 point “plan” which is quoted below.
Mr. Fetterman’s plan includes this gem: “All across Pennsylvania we’re seeing soaring prices, hollowed out communities, getting ripped off by corporate greed.”
Here is his 5 point plan to fix things:
- Make more sh*t in America (This is a direct quote including the spelling).
- Cut taxes for working people
- Ban Congress from trading stocks
- Slash “out of pocket” health care costs
- End immoral price gouging
We have come to expect politicians to say stupid things. And John Fetterman has jumped into the stupid sweepstakes with gusto.
Fetterman’s positions are so extreme or pointless or both that he and his handlers have decided to make the campaign about abortion and identity politics. He has taken to wearing a sweatshirt emblazoned with a “John Fetterwoman” Logo that is supposed to emphasize his support for abortion rights.
Funny thing though, in the end abortion regulation is going to be decided by 50 state legislatures, not the Feds so if he is really all that interested in furthering abortion rights he would be attempting to do so at the state, rather than federal level. But he isn’t.
Because on top of being a buffoon (see the 5 point plan above) he is also a hypocrite. He makes a big deal about his working class sympathies, spent years as Mayor of a small working class town and best of all he routinely outfits himself in a pair of shorts and a hoodie. As the stenographers that make up the political press put it: He wears this outfit Even in winter! Well, Holy Smoke: How’s that for street cred?
So let’s talk about the publicity machine that Fetterman built over the years as a way to create a persona that bears little resemblance to the actual person. Start with the working class bit, and grant the log cabin routine is a perennial in American politics.
John Fetterman earned his first paycheck—other than the $150 per month he earned as Mayor—when he was 49 years old. That paycheck came from his job as Lieutenant Governor. Until then he was supported by an allowance funded by his wealthy family. Like most working class people he earned his bachelors degree from Albright College; his MBA from the University of Connecticut and his Master’s in Public Policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School.
After his sojourn at the Kennedy School he ran for Mayor of Braddock, PA and won. There he stayed from January 2006 until January 2019 when he became Lt. Governor of PA.
After his election as Mayor of Braddock, Fetterman launched what Wikipedia calls “a failed campaign to attract new residents to the area from the artistic and creative communities.” He also initiated other revitalization efforts. They failed as well.
Today Braddock looks pretty much the same as it looked when Fetterman was Mayor. It has a tiny population of about 2,000 people. Median household income is about $18,500; per capita income is only about $13,100 according to US Census data. Some 35% pf the population lives below the poverty line including 54% of those under 18 years old.
On top of all this, Fetterman suffered a stroke a few days before the primary. His campaign covered up the extent of the damage for as long as it could, but eventually the details began to emerge as they almost always do. It turns out that as a result of his stroke, Fetterman has problems processing spoken words and so he insists on using a closed captioning aid when he has the rare interview.
NBC News reporter Dasha Burns quizzed Fetterman the other day about the state of his health now and noted that Fetterman had not released his medical records relating to the stroke. She also reported that it”…wasn’t clear [Fetterman]was understanding the part of their conversation when he didn’t have the aid of a captioning device.”
As social justice warriors are wont to do, the Fetterman campaign immediately went on the attack in an effort to intimidate anyone who would dare to question the bona fides of the candidate. They wheeled out his wife, Gisele Fetterman, who announced the interview left her “in a rage”; accused the reporter of doing a disservice to journalism for the “appalling” report which was, she maintained appalling to the entire disability community. Then for the coup de grace she urged that there be “consequences” for the reporter.
Note that the argument quickly went from “nothing to see here; all is fine” to an argument that questions about the candidate’s health status are all of a sudden off-bounds.
That about sums it up. Candidate Fetterman is a fraud as well as being a failed Mayor, a policy buffoon and hostile to the first amendment. The only thing he’s got going for him is that he is running against—Dr Mehmet Oz.
Dr. Mehmet Oz is a celebrity celebrity doctor and political neophyte endorsed by Donald J Trump. In the Republican primary Dr. Oz beat David McCormack, a hedge fund manager, by about 1,000 votes.
Unlike Fetterman, Oz doesn’t try to hide either his wealth or background. Disclosure forms indicate his wealth is over $100 million, and could be multiples of that. He was born in Turkey (he holds dual citizenship), went to Harvard for his undergraduate degree and the University of Pennsylvania for both his MBA and MD degrees.
Much has been made about his wealth, largely a function of the money he makes as a reality talk show host, and his upper class tastes. The Fetterman camp, for instance, has made a big deal about Oz referring to crudités, insisting that “real” Pennsylvanians use terms like veggie platter. Why that should matter, other than a crude appeal to envy, is beyond me.
That aside, Oz has descended into promoting medical quackery. An article published by McGill University’s Office for Science and Society documents Oz’s fall from respected surgeon to circus barker. For example, Oz has championed “energy medicine” for which he won the Pigasus Award. It is an award that, as McGill puts it, recognizes achievements in pseudoscience.
He has hyped diet pills without any evidence they actually work. He has apparently lent credence to the idea of talking to the dead. And he has relentlessly hyped his “Dr. Oz’s homeopathic starter kit” which is based on using non-existent molecules to treat real diseases.
Among other things, Oz has suggested that there are dangerous levels of arsenic in apple juice (there are not); that green coffee is a miracle cure for obesity (it isn’t) and has hinted that genetically modified foods are cancer causing (they are not).
Lest anyone think these are mere political hits, reeking of bias, the AMA Journal of Ethics took him to task for the coffee and obesity claims back in 2017 when Oz was playing at being “America’s Doctor”. That was well before Donald Trump—or anybody else—came up with the idea of Oz running for the Senate.
So there you have it. Pennsylvania has a pair of wealthy frauds running for its open Senate seat; in its gubernatorial race a moderate Democrat is facing off against a Trumpian election denier. What to make of it?
My guess is that Shapiro, the moderate Democrat will convincingly trounce the election denier Republican Mastriano, for the Governor’s office. On the other hand, Oz will narrowly defeat Fetterman. If Oz wins the contest, the spread between the vote totals of Shapiro and Fetterman will capture the attention of analysts.
To the extent that Shapiro wins convincingly and Fetterman loses (or perhaps just squeaks by) the conclusion will be that a moderate Democrat can be formidable in a blue-collar swing state. At the same time a defeat for a far-left Senatorial candidate would suggest that voters in the Keystone state are looking for moderation in their politics.
There is a certain irony in all this. To the extent that Democrats have focused their attention on abortion, the race that matters most to them is (ore should be) the race for the statehouse. In the wake of Dobbs v. Jackson overturning Roe v. Wade, abortion regulation will be decided at the state level, not the national level, absent a Constitutional amendment. The Governor’s race is therefore more important in that respect.
The Democrat’s focus on nationalizing abortion regulation has also left them extremely vulnerable. While 2 months ago abortion concerns were among the top priorities for voters, now those concerns have fallen to about 4th or 5th place, behind, inflation, crime and the economy in general.
If, instead of running on local issues, the Democrats lose their bet on nationalizing abortion regulation, what is left for them to run on? Abortion will have lost some of its salience in the national debate and the Democratic Party infrastructure will be left in tatters.
One last note. In some ways, the Georgia Gubernatorial and Senatorial elections are a mirror image of Pennsylvania. More on that in a future post.