Labor Day weekend is the traditional start of the General Election campaign season. That is a bit of a quaint relic as campaigns now are never ending and certainly residents of Penn’s Woods have been bombarded by political ads throughout the summer.
It is, however, now time to get serious. Lt. Governor John Fetterman, the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring U.S. Senator Pat Toomey begins his campaign ads paying homage to the seriousness of this election – but then talks about how many homes his opponent owns and engages in pity, but irrelevant, social media posts about what to call a plate of vegetables.
Absent is any mention of the kitchen table issues that impact most voters. With inflation running at an historic high level and an economic recession looming if not already in progress folks are more concerned about whether they can afford to buy vegetables rather than what you call them.
Voters will not get real answers to serious issues from either television ads or social media posts. What is needed are one-on-one forums – debates if you will – between the candidates. As the campaign season officially launches no debates have been agreed to either between the U.S. Senate candidates or the candidates seeking to replace Tom Wolf as Governor.
This brings us back to John Fetterman. His Republican opponent Dr. Mehmet Oz has called for a series of five debates including forums to be hosted by legacy media outlets – which is not always a level playing field for conservatives. Fetterman has not committed to even one face-to-face forum.
In fact, Fetterman has been largely absent from the campaign trail since suffering a stroke days before the Primary election in May. He has appeared in public only a few times – in carefully controlled circumstances and with no availability to the news media. Worse, his performance on those occasions was, to be kind, unsteady.
Questioning Fetterman’s health has become somewhat of a Third Rail in Pennsylvania politics. While we all wish the Lt. Governor a return to good health, he is a major party candidate for an office that could determine the ultimate balance of power in the U.S. Senate for the next two years. This makes the cone of silence surrounding his condition untenable – and the media’s refusal to hold him accountable, journalistic malpractice.
For his part Fetterman has been less than transparent about his health condition. He suffered a stroke the Friday before Primary election day, but his campaign did not disclose his condition – during which Fetterman himself said he “almost died” until two days later. This has given rise to questions about whether his office properly followed the state’s Governor and Lt. Governor Disability Law.
That law is designed to ensure continuity in executive leadership in the event the Governor and/or Lt. Governor become incapacitated – which clearly Fetterman was for a period of time. State Senator David Argall (R-Schuylkill) is Chairman of the Senate State Government Committee. He has requested – twice – details from Fetterman on what happened in the hours and days following his stroke. Fetterman, with the aid of other senior Democrats, have stonewalled the investigation which is attempting to ascertain if the law is effective.
To his credit Fetterman ultimately released a letter from his doctor detailing his history of health problems, but there has been a lack of updates for months with virtually no questioning by the news media which undoubtedly would make such behavior a major issue were it Dr. Oz who spent three months under wraps.
All this this makes it even more important for John Fetterman to take to the debate stage with Mehmet Oz. Appearing in a series of debates Fetterman can dispel any lingering questions about his health and whether he can physically perform the duties of the office he is seeking.
More importantly, there are serious issues that need addressed. The economy is top on voters’ minds. Energy is a major Pennsylvania industry and the candidates have disparate views on the sector. Foreign affairs, including the impact of the devastative surrender in Afghanistan, the war in Ukraine, and the growing geopolitical threat posed by China all are issues we need the candidates to address.
We are entering the campaign’s home stretch with little insight as to where the candidates stand on these and other critical issues. Summer is over, so it is time for everyone to put on their big boy pants and begin addressing the serious issues which confront our nation.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly American Radio Journal and Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is [email protected].)
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