An opinion piece in USA Today lauded Democratic candidate John Fetterman for his performance against Republican rival Mehmet Oz, who the author claimed “belittled and bullied” his opponent in the only debate ahead of the contentious Pennsylvania Senate election.
Fetterman, the commonwealth’s lieutenant governor who has struggled with cognition following a stroke in May, floundered during last week’s first and only debate between the two nominees. Luke Visconti, an opinion contributor for USA Today and the founder of DiversityInc, a publication focused on diversity management, contended in a Sunday article that Fetterman was “brave” for facing his opponent.
“As I watched Fetterman’s debate performance, I did so with great pride and admiration … Average people are often crushed by the circumstances he’s fighting to rise above,” Visconti, a fellow stroke victim, asserted. “I don’t think it was ‘painful’ to watch him in his debate, as some have suggested. It was a courageous example of a person rising above an obstacle in his path, willing to suffer indignities from people trying to take advantage of his disability as well as simply cruel and ignorant people.”
Commentators on both sides of the aisle have nevertheless called attention to Fetterman’s health struggles and the questions they raise about his service in Congress, which Visconti failed to address. The editorial board of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette noted that Fetterman has wrongly characterized Oz’s “legitimate calls” for him to release health records as “mean-spirited and insensitive,” which indicates a worrying lack of transparency. Gisele Barreto Fetterman, the wife of John Fetterman, likewise rebuked an NBC News journalist who reported on his cognitive challenges by calling for “some accountability” and labeling her an “ableist.”
Visconti, however, said that critics were equating an “auditory processing disorder” with a “lack of intelligence” in a bigoted manner, although Oz has never appeared to have questioned Fetterman’s intellect. “This type of bullying cannot be accepted,” he continued. “The fact that anyone would leverage a widely held misconception for political gain, especially a medical doctor, is disgusting.”
Visconti also cited a comment from an Oz campaign staffer who said that Fetterman could have avoided a stroke if he had “ever eaten a vegetable in his life,” as well as a mocking list of concessions Oz was prepared to make after Fetterman continually refused to debate him. Among the items on the list was a promise not to “intentionally hurt John’s feelings” and to allow “John to have all of his notes in front of him.” Fetterman struggled last week despite the Oz campaign agreeing to let him use a closed captioning system placed behind the moderators.
“John Fetterman has demonstrated himself to be a fighter — a man with courage, drive and a remarkable lack of self-pity. He also must have a great support system around him, especially a supportive and loving family,” Visconti remarked. “No matter how one feels about his political opinions, I think having leaders who have overcome substantial challenges with enough humility to expose themselves to public scrutiny encourage and embolden others who face challenges.”
Despite Visconti’s call for empathy and understanding while Fetterman recovers, some have questioned whether the nominee would truly make any more substantial improvements. Huma Sheikh, a neurologist specializing in migraines and strokes, told NewsNation anchor Chris Cuomo after the debate that Fetterman likely has Broca’s aphasia, where victims see the most improvement within the first three to six months.
The race for Pennsylvania’s open seat in the Senate could determine which party controls Congress. Over the past few weeks, Oz has gained in the polls after months of Fetterman holding a substantial lead, rendering the contest a toss-up the week before Election Day.
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