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The Fetterman-Oz Debate & Journalist Coverage of It: A Prototype of the Crisis of Compassion Degrading Institutional Authority & Credibility
The weaponization of empathy and 'ableism' for political power
Note to readers: this was a piece I intended to finish and post shortly after the Fetterman-Oz Pennsylvania Senate Debate and associated media coverage, but got buried in the ‘to complete’ queue. The impetus to finish and post the essay was provided by Fetterman’s recent unfortunate, yet totally foreseeable medical complications and admission to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to receive treatment for severe clinical depression - which according to recent reports could have Fetterman out for “weeks.” Joining me to complete the piece is
We all recall the spectacle of the recent midterm election, and more importantly, the extremely strange events surrounding the Pennsylvania senatorial race between Mehmet Oz and the progressive, populist democrat politician, former mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania, and former Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor - John Karl Fetterman.
We say “strange” only in the sense that on the one hand, there was a very clear timeline of events - starting with Fetterman’s stroke suffered on Friday, May 13, just four days before the primary election in which he trounced his Democratic opponents - that should raise (for most people anyways) serious concerns about his mental and cognitive fitness. After all, Fetterman was intending to occupy an extremely powerful, influential, and exclusive position; there are only 100 sitting US Senators serving at any one time. Thus, it is a job that most would agree requires a high degree of mental and cognitive fitness to perform well, notwithstanding any degree of significant mental or cognitive deficit.
This issue was in fact raised very pointedly by NBC reporter Dasha Burns, who interviewed Fetterman a few weeks prior to the election, and prior to his last-minute debate with Mehmet Oz, after nearly half of the mail-in ballots had been cast.
In this interview, Ms. Burns noted Fetterman was at times ‘fumbling’ words. She noticed he seemed to have trouble understanding small talk, and that he seemed impaired in communication with the teleprompter turned off. Her report was notable because it was at odds with the media narrative at the time- that it was a minor stroke from which Fetterman was almost completely recovered.
The reaction from media was immediate, and surprisingly brutal, with Fetterman’s wife even intimating that it was appropriate to have Burns reprimanded for daring to speak the truth about him:
We don’t really need to recap what happened on the debate stage between John Fetterman and Mehmet Oz. While Oz was certainly a bit vapid with his presentation, perhaps with a mildly condescending air about his performance (and with the stench of the ‘carpetbagger’ label stuck on him), John Fetterman’s debate performance was an absolute, unmitigated, shocking disaster. In his answers, Fetterman had trouble engaging in basic verbal communication, at times even speaking as if he was possibly suffering from a mild case of Broca’s Aphasia. It was, quite frankly, hard to watch without feeling some mixture of simultanous embarrassment, and even a not-so-insignificant degree of empathy for him. Rapid reaction on Twitter and other social media reliably and convincingly reflected this sentiment.
Noting the disaster unfolding before our eyes on the debate stage:
And cling to hope for sympathy votes they did.
Almost as quickly as the jarring shock of Fetterman’s impaired performance on the was witnessed, and the prevailing media narrative evaporated with every incoherent response, the cries of “ableism” began. Commentators and pundits on the left called out to shame and silence anyone who observed the impairment and inhumanity of what seemed to be unfolding in front of them- leaving only meek silence amongst those who dared to question the wisdom or appropriateness of a clearly brain-injured man with apparently visibly diminished mental capacity, serving as a sitting US Senator. Stroke recovery became akin to needing glasses and anyone who suggested otherwise was just a hateful bigot.
We are clearly living through a deepening crisis - and one of the hallmarks of this crisis is we can’t trust legacy media anymore (I mean, perhaps we never should have in the first place - but that’s beside the point). We can no longer trust in the objectivity, truthfulness, and authoritative credibility of mainstream journalism and political pundits, especially those on the left where radical progressivism is often their raison d'être. Objective reporting of truth has been jettisoned and in its place a maudlin storytelling narrative approach to chronicling events that weaponizes empathy has replaced it.
There is no better illustration of the social media amplification of emotive irrationality and incontinence and the weaponization of empathy than that burbled forth from the single Pennsylvania Senate Debate between Mehmat Oz and John Fetterman during the 2022 mid-term season. To take several examples:
In contrast, rational, logical takes were ones that could set aside emotion and stated the obvious:
Even David French!
Indeed, revisiting the rapid reaction the night of the debate against the backdrop of Fetterman’s recent serious and largely predictable health concerns is remarkable.
What was to come continues to unfold:
This phenomenon of frantic appeals to empathy and emotion - across so many of our cultural, educational, and political institutions today, and especially when other narratives crumble - is becoming increasingly familiar, if not routine.
The consequences inevitably include dysfunction and chaos.
In our opinion, they make a mockery of the real suffering that individuals like Senator Fetterman experience as brain-injured stroke patients. As co-author GeroDoc puts it:
The Fetterman debacle has also made a mockery of the electoral process - lying and then playing on our emotions to essentially install a broken, beaten husk of a man (now tragically hospitalized with apparently chronic complications of his vascular neurocognitive disorder - likely vascular depression) simply as a vehicle to inflict a radical progressive agenda on the US voting public.
Fetterman was a completely cold and cynical means to an end.
This kind of contempt towards the voting public - and the cynical use of weaponized empathy - is redolent of the behavior of Democrat mayors or other city officials when they endorse, either directly or indirectly, policy that appeals to individuals’ sense of empathy and compassion, but which invetiably results in suffering when instantiated at the level of the population. As I remarked in reaction to another midterm election result regarding Kathy Hochul’s soft-on-crime, putatively preferential treatment of criminals, restorative justice mindset:
This playbook is also being used by Democrats and neoliberals with respect to the US involvement in the war on Ukraine. As Glenn Greenwald recently remarked about President Biden’s appearance with President Zelensky in Ukraine:
“they [the media elite/establishment/a tiny sliver of elites who work for Raytheon and the CIA] depict something as banal and theatrical and contrived as Biden’s trip to Kiev for five hours as some sort of world historic event that everyone in reality will be forgetting about by next Tuesday and it’s constantly designed to play at the heartstrings [and] the decent impulses of the American people to support things that are just not in their interest.”
It’s a warped “crisis of compassion” we are living through in the West - and is part of a larger feminization, if you will, of knowledge production and culture that has been discussed by others. It is also a core feature of the ‘psychopathology of the elites’ that Martin Gurri has discussed. Until this crisis is publicly acknowledged and addressed in all of our institutions, the spiral into societal chaos and political dysfunction will only continue, increasingly teetering on the edge of potential, and lately (quite literally) nuclear conflagration.
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