John Fetterman’s Progressive Fantasy Campaign

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In recent years, Americans have heard some new theories about the world from progressive activists and academics. First, that “your truth” is what matters, not the truth; you can be whoever you say you are. Second, that there is no need to debate “the other side” or confront its ideas. And third, that using the language of the oppressed—no matter how privileged you are yourself—means that you don’t need to listen or think about what would really help people.

It is no wonder that the progressive activists advancing these ideas have a favorite candidate in this year’s midterm elections: Pennsylvania lieutenant governor John Fetterman, who is running a Senate campaign almost exclusively fueled by memes and tweets and funded by out-of-state progressive donors. No candidate today better encompasses America’s new progressive dogmas.

Fetterman, a Democrat, came from immense family wealth, attended Harvard for graduate school, and received a sizable allowance into his late forties. This allowance subsidized his job as mayor of Braddock, an ailing ex-steel town on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, where he landed after drifting through post-graduate life. In Braddock, Fetterman donned the identity of his surroundings, styling himself into the personification of gritty Western Pennsylvania, complete with tattoos and biker-gang get-up.

It seemingly doesn’t matter to his supporters that Fetterman is actually the scion of a wealthy family and merely dresses up as a working class guy. His truth matters more than the truth, and in our new fantasy world, Fetterman is a working-class icon, while his opponent, Dr. Mehmet Oz—the self-made son of Turkish immigrants—is a nasty plutocrat.

A second idea that undergirds America’s new progressive dogma is that we shouldn’t seek to win a debate of ideas; instead, we can cancel or silence anybody who diverges from the “correct” way of thinking. Engaging with “toxic” ideas will only taint us and could even harm us. Such is the case with Fetterman’s campaign, which never hesitates to throw Twitter bombs but has agreed to debate his opponent only once, after mail-in voting starts.

Fetterman’s team shamed Oz for “mock[ing] a stroke survivor,” but Fetterman himself has never shied away from making a joke of the race, enlisting Snooki and an array of people dressed in broccoli suits along the way.

In truth, America’s progressive adherents don’t see any need for debate. As they see it, the only people who would dissent from their ideas are operating in bad faith. Why debate when you are spreading the gospel?

This allergy to open discussion actually makes sense because progressive ideas are unpopular among the people to whom they are directed. Online progressives love concepts like “prison abolition” and “dismantling” capitalism. Working-class voters, many of them minorities, do not. These voters are leaving the Democratic Party; nonwhite working-class voters have made a nineteen percentage-point shift toward Republicans since 2012, just as Democrats have gone all-in on progressive notions about race, gender, religion, and the economy. This trend is set to accelerate significantly as the Democratic Party continues to swap nonwhite, working-class voters for highly educated white ones.

The progressive, hyper-online base that propelled Fetterman out of Pennsylvania’s primary over moderate alternatives could learn something from Eric Adams, New York’s comparatively moderate Democratic mayor, who said: “Social media does not pick a candidate — people on Social Security do.”

Offline, where real life happens, John Fetterman’s ideas and image have little relevance to Pennsylvanians who must work, make payroll, and get along with their neighbors. Dressing up like a “working man” is not the same as being one. Reality strikes back, one way or another. In this case, it’s coming November 8, and no matter how hard the online Left leans into Fetterman’s fantasy persona, it is the voters who will decide—and most of them still live in the real world. 

Albert Eisenberg is a millennial political consultant based in Philadelphia and Charleston, SC. He has been featured on Fox News, RealClearPolitics, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and elsewhere. He is a MaverickPAC Future 40 awardee. @Albydelphia

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