John Fetterman Finally Caved To Bad Faith

John Fetterman Finally Caved To Bad Faith

John Fetterman, unlike any Democratic congressional candidate in my lifetime, had for months batted away any and all opportunities to engage in the crazy TV doctor's bad-faith campaign.

Fetterman, Pennsylvania's former lieutenant governor running for the U.S. Senate, had deployed a strategy not of good faith, but of no faith, in his race against Mehmet Oz. Steeped in the culture and language of online broken brains, Fetterman simply would not counter Oz's bad faith with good faith. Because, as we know, no amount of good faith can beat bad faith – the ultimate political weapon that shapes reality and makes the unthinkable very much thinkable for millions of Americans. Fetterman knows one cannot win a debate with someone who says what they don't mean – the rotten core of bad-faith politics.

Fetterman, who suffered a stroke earlier this year and has struggled through various stroke symptoms – including auditory processing disorder – has largely avoided in-person campaigning while viciously owning Dr. Oz and his surgically altered Joker face. Oz and his monstrous campaign officials had bated Fetterman for months to "come out of the basement" and debate Oz – a sandbagger millionaire from New Jersey – face to face. It's the clarion call of the American fascist: Debate me! Most commonly it's used by conservative incels (are there any other kind?) who have a crush on a liberal pundit or politician.

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The pressure to engage in the right's tried-and-true bad faith also came from media outlets that desperately needed Pennsylvania's Senate race to narrow in the final weeks of October. Fetterman, after all, had led the evil doctor by 10-12 points since the end of August. It was, by every indication, going to be a blowout victory for Fetterman, stroke or no stroke. Electoral blowouts are bad for ratings, so local and national reporters demanded interviews with Fetterman – who for some reason obliged – and promptly told their audiences he was borderline braindead.

I was devastated to see Fetterman cave to Oz's bad faith and debate him on stage this week, a performance that went exactly as you'd expect. Fetterman struggled to process some of the moderator's questions and sometimes stumbled over his words while the TV-ready Oz acquitted himself well enough besides a gaff about local lawmakers deciding if people should be legally allowed to control their own reproduction. Like any good doctor, Oz mercilessly mocked Fetterman's stroke symptoms, smirking and looking knowingly toward the debate crowd as Fetterman stumbled over his words or took a moment to fully process the moderator's questions. At one point, the soulless Oz – a heart surgeon who has treated stroke victims – asked Fetterman if he needed Oz to speak more slowly. These were the tactics of a bully desperate to land a punch after luring his prey off school grounds.

It recalled the fall of 2016, when Donald Trump and his allies created a bad-faith narrative about Hillary Clinton's failing health (please don't mistake me for a Clintonite, I'm begging you). Major media outlets bought into the narrative and all we heard about for weeks was Clinton's supposed efforts to hide a health issue that should, maybe, disqualify her from the presidency. We're only asking questions, Trump and his campaign surrogates said repeatedly. Is Hillary Clinton dying? That attack sowed real doubt about her viability as a presidential candidate in the minds of voters who for some reason were undecided going into the race's final stretch. It ended with the election of the perfectly healthy Trump, unquestionably strong in mind and body.

Oz didn't really care about airing his political differences with Fetterman before a TV audience and having a good-faith debate about the issues as we tip into post-democratic authoritarianism. Oz knew his only way back into the race was to parade the stroke survivor in front of a TV audience and take shots at his condition. That Fetterman gave into Oz's bad faith means this race – which would have been a coronation for Fetterman on November 8 – will be as tight as any Senate contest in the nation. It could be close enough for Trump and his Pennsylvania goon squad to challenge the results in regions where black and brown folks live and shoehorn the insane celebrity doctor into office. Conceding to a debate was good for Oz, good for the country's ascendent fascist movement, and good for media outlets that need a high-stakes electoral contest that comes down to the wire. It's bad for everyone else.

I wish Fetterman would have stayed strong. I wish he would have continued refusing to engage in the same old bullshit Republicans pull every election cycle. Fetterman and his campaign staff seemed to recognize the pitfalls of engaging with the right wing's bad faith – a heartening development in a political party mostly trapped in a 1990s West Wing mindset. He blew it by debating. Fetterman's no-faith experiment was tarnished by a dash of good faith. We can only hope Pennsylvania voters don't have the disdain for people with disabilities that Dr. Oz does.

Follow Denny Carter on Twitter @CDCarter13.