Fetterman and the Politics of Optics

Will voters overlook the elephant in the room?

Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate, had a stroke this summer and his speech has not recovered. Not shockingly, he therefore did not fare well in last night’s televised debate.

NYT (“Fetterman, Showing Stroke Effects, Battles Oz in Hostile Senate Debate“):

Five months after a stroke nearly took his life, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the Democratic nominee for Senate in Pennsylvania, clashed with Dr. Mehmet Oz on Tuesday in their one and only debate, disagreeing sharply over abortion, the economy and other partisan issues as Mr. Fetterman tried to assure voters of his fitness to serve.

Standing at red and blue lecterns in a television studio in Harrisburg, Pa., the two men could scarcely conceal their disdain for each other, or the scope of their disagreements. Dr. Oz returned repeatedly to the issue of crime while trying to position himself as a centrist candidate. Mr. Fetterman slashed Dr. Oz as a wealthy outsider unfamiliar with the economic struggles of Pennsylvanians.

The spectacle of the debate itself took on uncommon significance because of Mr. Fetterman’s stroke and the pace of his recovery. Mr. Fetterman sought to address the issue at the very start. “Let’s also talk about the elephant in the room: I had a stroke,” he said in his opening remarks, adding of his opponent, “He’ll never let me forget that.”

The debate was held under unusual conditions. Situated above the moderators were two 70-inch monitors to show the text of what was being said in close to real time — for both questions and answers. Professional typists were on hand to try to transcribe the debate as part of an agreed-upon accommodation for Mr. Fetterman, who has publicly discussed his lingering auditory processing issues after the stroke.

Mr. Fetterman’s words were frequently halting, and it was apparent when he was delayed in either reading or reaching for a phrase or word. But he was also fluent enough over the course of the hour to present his Democratic vision for a state that could determine control of the Senate.

Dr. Oz, the Republican nominee and a former television personality, displayed a sharpness and comfort honed by years in front of the camera. And from the opening minutes, he seized the chance to tack to the political center, casting himself as a problem-fixing surgeon and labeling Mr. Fetterman repeatedly as a radical.

Axios (“Fetterman’s painful debate“):

Capitol Hill’s reaction to the Pennsylvania Senate debate was brutal for Democratic nominee John Fetterman, from Democrats and Republicans alike.

Why it matters: Multiple sources wondered why Fetterman agreed to debate when he clearly wasn’t ready. Fetterman struggled at times to respond to the moderators’ questions, even with the assistance of a closed captioning device.

“Why the hell did Fetterman agree to this?” one Democratic lawmaker and Fetterman backer told Axios. “This will obviously raise more questions than answers about John’s health.”

POLITICO Playbook (“POLITICO Playbook: How much will John Fetterman’s rocky night matter?“):

Let’s state the obvious: JOHN FETTERMAN struggled to effectively communicate during his one and only Senate debate with MEHMET OZ Tuesday in Harrisburg.

THE STAKES — We don’t usually dwell on a single debate in a single race, but this one is different. Control of the Senate, and the future of policymaking in Washington, may hinge on the outcome of the Fetterman-Oz race.

The conventional wisdom over the summer was that Oz was a deeply flawed candidate who couldn’t win, but the race is a toss-up. Republicans just decided to pour an additional $6 million into Pennsylvania to help Oz. “We believe if we win Pennsylvania, we win the majority,” STEVEN LAW, who runs the most important Senate GOP super PAC, told POLITICO Tuesday.

And then Fetterman failed to meet even the low expectations his own campaign set for him Monday in a memo that predicted “awkward pauses, missing some words, and mushing other words together” as well as “temporary miscommunications at times.”

WILL IT MATTER? — Voters are not doctors. Many are myopic, distracted, and quick to make judgments with limited information. If there’s one thing everyone knows about campaign debates, it’s how superficial they are. We all remember RICHARD NIXON’s suspicious stubble and GEORGE H.W. BUSH’s impatient glance at his watch and AL GORE’s annoying sighs and DONALD TRUMP’s manic interruptions more than anything any of them said.

The median voter in Pennsylvania is a middle-aged white person with a mid-five-figure salary who did not attend college. That demographic is perhaps the least likely to be following the Fetterman ableism debate on Twitter and MSNBC.

A casual voter tuning in Tuesday night might have known Fetterman had suffered a stroke, but that voter would have to have been following the race pretty closely to know that his struggles with speech reflected a common “auditory processing disorder,” in his doctor’s words, and not a deeper neurological infirmity.

It’s obvious that Rep. DAN CRENSHAW is sightless in one eye or that Sen. TAMMY DUCKWORTH lost her legs. Nobody questions whether those injuries have an impact on their ability to serve in Congress.

But Fetterman’s disability is different. It prevents him from performing adequately in a candidate ritual — the campaign debate — that has long been associated, correctly or not, with electability and effectiveness in Congress. The plain fact is that Fetterman was not capable of debating Oz. He could have skipped the debate, as some Democrats suggested he should have after it was over, but the Fetterman campaign gambled that the media would educate voters about his auditory issues and then referee any attacks on him with charges of ableism.

THE TRANSPARENCY ISSUE — But reporters are not doctors either. And Fetterman again declined Monday night to release comprehensive medical records about his condition. Instead he has gone the Trumpian route and issued a letter from his doctor, who has not made himself available to reporters.

Fetterman’s initial lack of transparency about the seriousness of the stroke five months ago has heightened media skepticism. But even if you take his health claims at face value, how are reporters to score his debate performance? How much of his trouble communicating was due to the stroke, and how much of it was that he didn’t have answers?

BUT, BUT, BUT — There are two well-worn cliches about debates: (1) They are rarely won but can sometimes be lost. (2) They are decided by the coverage in subsequent days rather than on debate night itself.

Fetterman clearly lost last night. “[T]he biggest issue was John Fetterman’s health and his ability to comprehend speech, and to then speak coherently on the issues of the day,” said LELAND VITTERT of NewsNation, which sponsored the debate, in what was typical of the immediate coverage.

NYT (“5 Takeaways From the Pennsylvania Senate Debate“):

For many voters, the debate was their first extended chance to see what Mr. Fetterman looks and sounds like after his stroke. He could sound halting, sometimes jumbling words, using the wrong one, and occasionally sounding off-key. He opened the evening by saying, “Good night.”

His performance will test whether voters regard his impairments as temporary or even humanizing setbacks, or whether it fuels questions about his fitness for office.

Mr. Fetterman was mindful of that challenge. From his opening remarks, he framed his experience as a comeback story still in progress.

“I had a stroke,” he said. Referring to Dr. Oz, he continued, “He’s never let me forget that. And I might miss some words during this debate, mush two words together, but it knocked me down, but I’m going to keep coming back up.”

Mr. Fetterman sometimes failed to prosecute a crisp case against his opponent, a television veteran, or to vigorously or extensively answer some of the criticism that came his way.

But he could also sound energetic and passionate, drawing contrasts on issues like abortion rights and urging his opponent to run against Senator Bernie Sanders, given how much Dr. Oz tries to link the left-wing Vermonter to Mr. Fetterman. He also sought to use his illness to connect with others who are struggling.

“This campaign is all about, to me, is about fighting for everyone in Pennsylvania that ever got knocked down,” he said.

Let’s start with the usual caveat: only a very small percentage of those who will vote for Senator in Pennsylvania are persuadable at this stage of the race. Still, the fact that Fetterman can’t articulate his thoughts has to be a big problem.

To be sure, Oz is a quack with zero business running for political office, let alone fit to serve in the United States Senate. But he’s good on television and looks good in a suit. Fetterman, by contrast, decidedly does not.

Despite by all accounts being intelligent and hard-working as a public servant, with two graduate degrees, including a master of public policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School, he has long since decided to present himself in a way more traditional for the leader of a motorcycle gang or foreman of an auto body shop than as a political leader. He only owns a single suit—a function of being required by law to wear one when presiding over the Pennsylvania Senate—but otherwise seems to wear either a black hoodie or a gray work shirt.

His forearms are covered with tattoos but not of the traditional variety. They include the 15104 ZIP code of Braddock, the town where he was mayor before winning his current job, and the dates of the deaths of ten residents who died due to violence during his tenure. That’s commitment, I suppose, but certainly unconventional.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2022, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Andy says:

    If we had normal political parties like the rest of the modern world, both of these candidates would be replaced by now.

    decided to present himself in a way more traditional for the leader of a motorcycle gang or foreman of an auto body shop than as a political leader.

    The stereotype about “motorcycle gangs” is probably widely-held, especially by older generations, but to me, that is actually endearing. Lots of people these days have arm tattoos and the stereotype is not accurate anymore.

    He’s not faking it like most politicians who put on “working class” garb for the cameras.

    6
  2. gVOR08 says:

    By “elephant in the room” I trust you mean,

    Oz is a quack with zero business running for political office, let alone fit to serve in the United States Senate.

    And yes, the voters of PA are ignoring it.

    13
  3. drj says:

    Fetterman’s painful debate

    Certain media ought to be nuked from orbit.

    Oz last night:

    Decisions on abortion should be made between “a woman, her doctor, and local political leaders.”

    But it’s Fetterman whose peformance was painful?

    Certain media should really ask themselves who creates these “optics” in the first place. Like back in 2016 when email security management somehow became the most pressing issue facing the nation.

    13
  4. Scott says:

    Isn’t long past time to put to bed that debating is an essential skill to be a politician? Debating in the Senate doesn’t accomplish anything except provide footage for future campaigns. There is no persuasion going on at all. Yet we all demand a debate so we can be entertained.

    3
  5. KM says:

    @Scott:
    Theoretically debating is proving one can reason and back up their positions when challenged. You can prep for a debate but it’s intended purpose is to show the candidate understands what they are proposing enough to articulate it upon demand. A good statesman isn’t necessarily a good debater but if you tank the debate, it’s a good sign you’re not gonna do well in the job.

  6. James Joyner says:

    @Andy: I’m more thinking of the rest of the garb than the tats. It’s just not a professional look.

    @gVOR08: I used Fetterman’s own description. And, yes, roughly half of the voters don’t care.

    @drj: I’m sure Oz’s weird statement would have been the story otherwise. But c’mon.

    @Scott: @KM: We use debates as proxies for verbal acuity and thinking on one’s feet but, yeah, neither of those are really essential skills for a Senator.

    1
  7. Kathy says:

    I’d vote for a motorcycle rather than a Republiqan running for a Senate seat.

    At most a motorcycle may make some noise, but won’t get in the way otherwise.

    1
  8. Scott says:

    @KM: I really can’t agree but that is the reason we are a country run by entertainers, talk and radio show hosts, and other verbally adept people whether or not they are competent or charlatans.

    But then again, as a verbally inept soulless technocrat, I know I would never be a politician.

    Also, this is a reason I lose all arguments with my very verbally competent wife.

    2
  9. steve says:

    Oz was a classmate. I didnt spend that much time with him, he was a year behind. Just remember him as the self centered pretty boy who would probably become a CT surgeon or neuro-surgeon. Had no idea he would sink to the level he did. But, he did and I simply wont vote for someone who has been so abusive of his position as a physician.

    That said, Fetterman’s performance was very painful. When rehabbing speech performing under time pressure is difficult while for Oz talking on TV is how he made his millions. Still, this was a bit worse than I expected. Most people dont follow politics the closely. I fully expect that for those who were undecided this will tip them towards Oz.

    Steve

    3
  10. Andy says:

    @Scott:

    Isn’t long past time to put to bed that debating is an essential skill to be a politician? Debating in the Senate doesn’t accomplish anything except provide footage for future campaigns. There is no persuasion going on at all. Yet we all demand a debate so we can be entertained.

    To me, the purpose isn’t necessarily debating skill but seeing politicians in situations that aren’t completely stage-managed. I think people want to see how politicians are in real life, and how they can handle themselves when there isn’t a script. Unfortunately, most “debates” have become much more stage-managed and scripted affairs.

  11. Stormy Dragon says:

    Having watched the debate last night, Fetterman certainly wasn’t a world class orator, but he was perfectly coherent and understandable, so it’s kind of bizarre today reading all these takes making him sound like he was barely able to speak, particularly after six years of telling me how brilliant a communicator Trump’s oral diarrhea is.

    This seems to me more like the media trying to create a thing out of nothing to drive their horserace story and the thing becoming accepted as the truth through constant repetition.

    In particular I would think Oz’s “I want local officials in the examination room” gaffe was far more damaging than Fetterman’s occasional ramblings.

    10
  12. daryl and his brother darryl says:

    Herschel Walker is clearly suffering from CTE…and the people who are yelling the loudest about Fetterman’s stroke and ongoing recovery want us to ignore that.
    Others who suffered from CTE; Junior Seau, Jovan Belcher, Aaron Hernandez. Walker shows all of the same symptoms. Do some research and tell me which you think is more concerning, especially when you consider some of Walker’s past behavior.
    But hey, thanks for representing the right wing talking points.

    17
  13. daryl and his brother darryl says:

    The only real moment in last nights debate that seems important is Oz saying abortion should be a decision between a woman, her doctor, and local politicians.
    FFS.
    I don’t care if Fetterman is drooling and barely sentient….I still wouldn’t vote for OZ.
    (Who, by the way, drinks his own piss.)

    5
  14. Scott says:

    @Andy: Makes as much sense as two candidates given an essay question, given 15 minutes to write, and the results read out loud.

    1
  15. dmichael says:

    @James Joyner: Then what was the point of you saying “Still, the fact that Fetterman can’t articulate his thoughts has to be a big problem.”? Another example of your post providing the right wing talking points and then when challenged, equivocating. I don’t know if the result of his election will be based on Fetterman’s attire or the extent of his recovery from his stroke but I do know that if the quack with a history of making money selling “miracle cures” is elected, he will do everything to take away women’s right to control their health care treatment. But hey, no biggy.

    10
  16. MarkedMan says:

    @daryl and his brother darryl: Hey, James’ takeaway is his takeaway, and I’m glad to get that perspective. My PA family and friends are all 100% in on Fetterman and the debate boosted him in their eyes… which doesn’t really mean anything because nothing would have changed their vote. And I assume if I ask my few PA Trumper friends what they thought, he appeared to them as a drooling idiot. And that doesn’t really mean anything. In other words, I have plenty of sources for the ‘standard’ takes. I’m glad to hear James’ takeaway, as a representative ofsomeone who is reasonable but not heavily invested in Fetterman or Democrats in general.

    3
  17. Gustopher says:

    @drj:

    Decisions on abortion should be made between “a woman, her doctor, and local political leaders.”

    What struck me about this was that Oz was lying about his position — the Republicans will be trying to pass nationwide restrictions, and he would join them.

    Anyway, the fine folks of Pennsylvania have a choice between a stroke victim who has decent politics and a Quack Republican. I would sooner vote for a pedophile than a Republican, so I don’t see why this is a hard question. They’re voting for a set of policies.

    4
  18. daryl and his brother darryl says:

    James, shall we question Stephen Hawking’s conclusions about the physical world because, you know, he had difficulty communicating.

    4
  19. James Joyner says:

    @daryl and his brother darryl: @dmichael: The sources for the post were the NYT, POLITICO, Axios, and NYT (again). Those are not “right wing” sites. Democrats have been worried about the impact of Fetterman’s stroke for months.

    @dmichael: I don’t understand the question. I noted at the outset that very few are persuadable. Almost all Democrats will vote for him regardless of these issues. Ditto most Republicans despite Oz being an obvious quack. But, like it or not, these speech issues will be a red flag for some significant percentage of “swing voters.”

    5
  20. James Joyner says:

    @daryl and his brother darryl: Particle physics isn’t a popularity contest. Elective politics is.

    5
  21. Andy says:

    @Scott:

    I like that idea actually.

    @daryl and his brother darryl:

    Herschel Walker is clearly suffering from CTE…and the people who are yelling the loudest about Fetterman’s stroke and ongoing recovery want us to ignore that.

    Yep, hypocrisy abounds.

    @dmichael:

    I took James to mean it’s a problem politically, which I think it obviously is.

    1
  22. Michael Cain says:

    @Andy:

    Lots of people these days have arm tattoos and the stereotype is not accurate anymore.

    When I donated blood a few weeks ago, all of the people I interacted with at the blood center had arm tattoos of some sort. The phlebotomist had a very striking brightly-colored full sleeve tattoo.

    2
  23. stevecanyon says:

    @Stormy Dragon: I didn’t watch the debate, but this is this the take I have heard from sources I trust. FWIW I think it’s possible this may even help Fetterman as regular folks in PA may see this as regular guy coming back from medical problem being bullied by smug New Jersey prick. The fact that the “smart take” types think its bad for Fetterman reinforces this belief.

    2
  24. Roger says:

    @Gustopher:

    I would sooner vote for a pedophile than a Republican, so I don’t see why this is a hard question. They’re voting for a set of policies.

    Me too, but I can’t help but wonder whether Dr. Taylor groans or grins when he sees so much confirmation that the quality of the candidate matters less than the D or R beside his name for folks on either side of the aisle.

    1
  25. Joe says:

    If ya’ll are so upset about James discussing the politics of optics, you could have saved yourself the trouble of reading a post titled, “The Politics Of Optics.”

    6
  26. DK says:

    @James Joyner:

    The sources for the post were the NYT, POLITICO, Axios, and NYT (again). Those are not “right wing” sites.

    From Whitewater to Bush’s Iraq lies to Emailghazigatepalooza to the nonstop barrage of Biden hate: The New York Times, POLITICO, and Axios and other establishmentarian news desks run by white media men have been carrying water for right wing witch hunts, right wing propaganda, and right wing narratives for a very long time.

    The only reason they are not recognized as such is phony bleating about the “liberal media” has moved the Overton window, making center-right coverage seem center-left compared to the fascism-lite over at Fox News.

    14
  27. Modulo Myself says:

    It’s not difficult. Fetterman can articulate his thoughts just fine via this tool we invented called writing. He just has a speech problem because of a stroke. If he had a lisp it would be a similar cosmetic problem.

    This is just cruelty, and it’s almost like people need this cruelty, like a reboot of those great days when FDR pretended he hadn’t suffered from polio. Does anyone actually believe Fetterman’s speaking matters in any concrete way?

    6
  28. Andy says:

    @Gustopher:

    I would sooner vote for a pedophile than a Republican, so I don’t see why this is a hard question. They’re voting for a set of policies.

    And yet people wonder how Republicans could vote for someone of such low character as Trump. And here you provide the answer.

    I guess character really doesn’t matter anymore to a lot of people. Those people should stop pretending it does.

    @DK:

    The only reason they are not recognized as such is phony bleating about the “liberal media” has moved the Overton window, making center-right coverage seem center-left compared to the fascism-lite over at Fox News.

    So what sources do you consider centrist, left-of-center, and far-left?

    2
  29. DK says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    This is just cruelty, and it’s almost like people need this cruelty…

    It’s also typical media dishonesty, passing of rightwing framing as objective discourse. Fetterman struggled to speak at times, uncomfortably so. But you would think reading today’s coverage that he was Stephen Hawking up there. That’s not how the debate played out, for those who watched it.

    Still, it does no good to pretend this does not matter, because Pennsylvania voters who didn’t watch the debate will be influenced by coverage of it. Like those who didn’t really investigate the nothingburger details of the press’s dishonest, right wing, anti-Hillary But Her Emails national b*** hunt.

    We see this time and yet again with the supposedly ‘liberal media.’

    They said Hillary’s emails deserved more coverage than Trump’s Russia collusion, white supremacy, and manifest authoritarian unfitness for office. Wrong.

    In 2018, they insisted Nancy Pelosi was an albatross around the neck of Democratic candidates. Wrong.

    They told us Warnock and Ossoff would lose the Jan 5, 2021 Georgia Senate runoffs. Wrong.

    9 of the 10 states with the highest murder rates are Republican (even when you remove their blue cities). There are red-state and/or Republican-mayored cities like Tulsa, Jacksonville, Lexington, Bakersfield and Fresno with worse murder rates than San Francisco or L.A. or New York. But the ‘liberal media’ has helped Republicans make crime a Democrat problem, instead of reporting the facts.

    In 2014, they riduculed Mark Udall for warning that Republican senators would confirm judges who would overturn Roe v. Wade. Udall was right. The prevailing media narrative was wrong.

    Last year, they informed us Gavin Newsom was in danger of being recalled while Ron DeSantis Won The Pandemic. In fact, by not taking Newsom’s approach, DeSantis had killed several extra thousands of Floridians. Newsom easily survived the recall, successfully contained what record heat promised would be an out-of-control wildfire season, has the nation’s biggest budget surplus, and has California poised to overtake Germany was the world’s 4th largest economy. Florida is now the nation’s worst housing market with literal disaster areas due to climate change denial and deregulation. Seen any “Where Does Gavin Newsom Go To Get His Apology” articles? Of course not.

    Democratic moderates and liberals need to recognize the mainstream press as a mixed bag at best, often prone to helping conservatives mislead Americans. But it is no use denying the impact of media forays into right wing propaganda. Democrats must work around it.

    8
  30. drj says:

    @Andy:

    I guess character really doesn’t matter anymore to a lot of people. Those people should stop pretending it does.

    Oh, but it does.

    It’s just that – especially after 1/6 – being a Republican is a disqualifying character trait.

    And no, you can’t turn this around by saying somehing along the lines of “but pro-lifers actually believe…”

    Because they don’t. Every actual pro–lifer who will vote for Herschel Walker will vote for what they “believe” is a murderer. And they don’t care.

    1
  31. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Andy: I can’t speak for DK, but I would definitely say that when I want left-of-center reporting/commentary, I go to Mother Jones, and The Nation. I’m not sure that there are any far-left sources here. To set you up for an easy hit on a reply, I will say that for centrist fare, I go to The New Republic but only because I’m not sure that they’ve recovered from Martin Peretz’s interesting “rethink liberalism and get paid for it” campaign in the 80s that empowered neoconservatism so effectively.

    3
  32. DK says:

    @Gustopher:

    I would sooner vote for a pedophile than a Republican, so I don’t see why this is a hard question. They’re voting for a set of policies.

    I would not vote for a known pedophile under any circumstances.

    But given the overlap between Republicans and political figures accused of or adjacent to child/teen sex assault, this is more a dilemma for conservatives than for me. I half expect Denny Hastert to throw his hat in the ring if Republicans take the House and McCarthy’s Speaker bid fails. Why not, with Gym Jordan and Matt Gaetz in the running? If you’re a right winger, settle for merely shady when you can go full pederast?

    7
  33. Andy says:

    @drj:

    And no, you can’t turn this around by saying somehing along the lines of “but pro-lifers actually believe…”

    Because they don’t. Every actual pro–lifer who will vote for Herschel Walker will vote for what they “believe” is a murderer. And they don’t care.

    I agree they don’t, that’s the point: Character doesn’t matter to the majority of partisans.

    being a Republican is a disqualifying character trait.

    Is that the only disqualifying trait, or are there any others? In a contest between a Republican and a pedophile, who gets your vote?

  34. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @DK ETA: (and Andy, too, I guess): Actually, I would still vote for a pedophile over Dr. Oz because a pedophile can be expelled from office whereas I’d be stuck with Dr, Oz until he decided to leave of his own will.

    (And I suspect that cranky ol’ Gus it is thinking along similar lines.)

  35. daryl and his brother darryl says:

    @James Joyner:

    Particle physics isn’t a popularity contest. Elective politics is.

    This is almost impossibly naive.
    There is $130M in dark money floating around PA.
    That’s what elective politics is.

    2
  36. daryl and his brother darryl says:

    @Andy:

    In a contest between a Republican and a pedophile, who gets your vote?

    This is a false dichotomy.
    The pedo is more likely to BE a Republican.
    See; Strom Thurmond, Denny Hastert, Donald Trump, Matt Gaetz, Gym Jordan, and the guy just last week in AZ rubbing one out in front of a daycare center.

    5
  37. Scott says:

    @Andy: @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    There are a couple organizations that attempt to categorize news media. Make of them as you will.

    Should you trust media bias charts?

    These controversial charts claim to show the political lean and credibility of news organizations. Here’s what you need to know about them.

    AllSides Media Bias Chart

    Know the Reliability and Bias of the News

  38. Andy says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Thanks for the response. It’s interesting to see where different people draw the “centrist” line.

    For myself, I’m not sure where I would draw it. That natural place would be the mainstream “establishment” press, but I increasingly find the media generally becoming too tailored to particular demographics and niches – and not just ideological ones. In short, media is increasingly tailoring coverage to specific audiences because the general idea of “news” isn’t as viable of a market anymore. I try to remember that almost all media organizations are businesses first, and they respond to incentives and markets like any other business.

    Wading through it all is difficult, to say the least.

  39. daryl and his brother darryl says:

    @James Joyner:
    @daryl and his brother darryl:

    Particle physics isn’t a popularity contest. Elective politics is.

    Not to mention that the former guy never won the popularity contest.

  40. Scott says:

    @Andy: It used to be that I considered myself somewhat conservative. I still do temperamentally but now I find myself on the more “liberal” side. What I can’t figure out is: Have I or my views changed? Or have the left-right definitions changed. Probably a little bit of both. Fundamentally, I see myself as a rationalist, as pretentious as that may sound. Or as I mock myself, a soulless technocrat.

    Probably a waste of time worrying about where you live on the spectrum.

    1
  41. Andy says:

    @daryl and his brother darryl:

    This is a false dichotomy.

    It’s a yes/no hypothetical, which you avoided answering.

    Let me put it a different way: How bad would a Democrat’s character have to be before you wouldn’t vote for them?

    @Scott:

    There are a couple organizations that attempt to categorize news media. Make of them as you will.

    I look at those occasionally. The problem I have with them is they only care about ideological bias, and that isn’t the only bias out there, or necessarily even the most important bias.

  42. Stormy Dragon says:

    @James Joyner:

    The sources for the post were the NYT, POLITICO, Axios, and NYT (again). Those are not “right wing” sites.

    Politico and Axios were both bought out this year by new right wing owners (Politico by Axel Springer SE, Axios by James Cox Kennedy) and there’s been plenty written about the NYT’s shift to ridiculous levels of bothsiderism since the Trump supporting A. G. Sulzberger took over the paper in 2018.

    In general there appears to be a concerted effort by right wing partisans to buy out trusted left wing or centrist news outlets and then “wear them as a skin suit” to start pushing right wing propaganda.

    Not surprisingly, this tactic seems to be working exceedingly well on Dr. Joyner.

    5
  43. Andy says:

    @Scott:

    It used to be that I considered myself somewhat conservative. I still do temperamentally but now I find myself on the more “liberal” side. What I can’t figure out is: Have I or my views changed? Or have the left-right definitions changed. Probably a little bit of both.

    I think there is definitely a problem with definitions. There are very different flavors of “conservative,” for example, that are worlds apart. And the same is true for “liberal.” One thing I wish for is more descriptive political language and labels.

  44. drj says:

    @Andy:

    In a contest between a Republican and a pedophile, who gets your vote?

    It depends on the Republican and the pedophile.

    Liz Cheney and your generic pedophile? Cheney.

    DeSantis and your generic pedophile? The pedophile.

    But regardless, I would try to pick the “best” of the two. So yes, character does matter. And I would never, ever pretend that having sex with children is no biggie because it happens to suit my side.

    Also what @daryl and his brother darryl said:

    This is a false dichotomy.
    The pedo is more likely to BE a Republican.
    See; Strom Thurmond, Denny Hastert, Donald Trump, Matt Gaetz, Gym Jordan, and the guy just last week in AZ rubbing one out in front of a daycare center.

    2
  45. Andy says:

    @drj:

    Thanks for answering.

    Personally, I would never vote for a pedophile under any circumstances because of first principles. And I honestly do not understand how anyone could justify voting for one of the worst types of criminals.

    1
  46. gVOR08 says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    I go to Mother Jones, and The Nation. I’m not sure that there are any far-left sources here.

    I’d add MSNBC for broadcast media and Media Matters online. (Both, IMHO, center left.) I assume there are still small communist and socialist journals somewhere and obscure academic sites. RW media seem to be able to find extremist quotes somewhere. But basically this country doesn’t have a far left. Possibly a side effect of the two party system Dr. T educates us on. The odd thing, I often watch MSNBC, mostly because what else is there in, to coin a term, the vast wasteland, but I seldom look at MJ, the Nation, MM, or any other left sources. And I believe I’m left of median among OTB commenters. Left sources can’t afford much original reporting and I’m not much interested in being in a choir for a preacher. There really are psychological differences between left and right which is why the talk radio format has never really worked on the left. I think GOP pols, root and branch, are lying sacks of spit, but I actually like most of my GOP friends, neighbors, family, and co-workers and have no desire to hate on them.

    @DK:

    But it is no use denying the impact of media forays into right wing propaganda. Democrats must work around it.

    Media do these dives down RW rabbit holes both because they feel pressure to not appear partisan and because the right makes it easy. How many hearings were there on Benghaaaaaazi!!? Comey went public on her mishandling of (zero) classified emails because of real or perceived pressure from GOPs in congress and apparently proto-fascists in the FBI. And most of it’s out of sight. Leaks, a stable of Kochtopus think (sic) tank experts eager to provide quotes and “research” material, handlers working reporters, cocktail parties with editors and publishers.

    GOPs have two big advantages. First, blood and soil nationalism is an easy sell. But mostly there really is a “the Republicans” in a way there isn’t a “the Democrats”. The Kochtopus is a group of foundations and entrepreneurial organizations with overlapping big dollar funders, overlapping boards, and a rotating “talent” pool. They pay Frank Luntz types to tell them what to say, they fund candidates, and they tell candidates to say it. And it works for most of their candidates because theirs is a much narrower coalition and a much simpler message. I’d say Ds need someone equivalent to the Koch Bros to step in with a bundle of money and organize them, especially message and message discipline. But Ds are inherently a lot harder to organize.

    2
  47. dmichael says:

    @Andy: Anything is a problem politically if the media frame it that way.

  48. drj says:

    @Andy:

    Personally, I would never vote for a pedophile under any circumstances because of first principles. And I honestly do not understand how anyone could justify voting for one of the worst types of criminals.

    Well, if you want to talk first principles: let’s look at Shinn v. Martinez, where the Republican majority on the SC ruled that evidence of innocence is no reason to deny the state of Arizona the right to execute someone.

    I think (state-sanctioned) murder is at least on par with the rape of a child.

    And there are, of course, all the instances in which Republicans seek to take away the political rights of those that disagree with them.

    Not all criminals wear striped suits.

    1
  49. dmichael says:

    @James Joyner: My question related to what you said, not what you quote from various media sources. You simultaneously say that “that very few are persuadable” and that “some significant percentage of “swing voters”” will see this as a “red flag.” If there aren’t many of them, no percentage would be significant. If being articulate is a critical attribute for a political candidate, Trump would not be viable as one and Herschel Walker wouldn’t be allowed near a microphone. My problem with your post is that you are too eager to jump on the media bandwagon.

    3
  50. wr says:

    @gVOR08: As one of the leftiers ones around here (I think), I have to say I haven’t read The Nation in decades. Not so much because of its politics — although Katrina Vandenheuvel’s insane Russia blind spot is pretty hard to take — but because it’s so damn boring. Mother Jones is a little better, but somehow I manage to forget about them most of the time…

    2
  51. Modulo Myself says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Politico and Axios were both bought out this year by new right wing owners (Politico by Axel Springer SE, Axios by James Cox Kennedy) and there’s been plenty written about the NYT’s shift to ridiculous levels of bothsiderism since the Trump supporting A. G. Sulzberger took over the paper in 2018.

    Liberal/left-wing has several different meanings. Mike Davis, one the great American leftist writers, died yesterday. It’s quite possible that mainstream liberal writers over 55 have never heard of Mike Davis. It’s almost impossible that a liberal writer under 35 would not have heard of him. Politico and Axios and part of the Times are for people who have never heard of and would never read Mike Davis, plain and simple. They’re liberal but fossilized.

    1
  52. daryl and his brother darryl says:

    @Andy:
    Who is the Republican and how well do they pretend to be actual human being?
    What is the actual charge against the pedo? Is it someone like Denny Hastert or Roy Moore or Gym Jordan with long histories? Or is it someone that got charged when they were 18 for dating a 17 yr old?
    Like most choices in life, it’s situational.

    3
  53. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Andy: I’m more inclined to see media in the US as having always been a point of political bias. The “yellow journalism” era maybe representing the tip of the iceberg, but also remembering that newspapers were named The XYZ Democrat and The ABC Republican for generally partisan reasons.

    Additionally, growing up in the 50s, I remember that my dad preferred the evening paper because it had the closing stock prices but we didn’t subscribe to the morning paper because it was “the liberal paper.

  54. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @gVOR08:

    But mostly there really is a “the Republicans” in a way there isn’t a “the Democrats”.

    This is a good point; it probably should be mentioned more often. It’s not so much in the fact of the “Kochtopus” though as it is in the range of ideas that make up both parties. The Democratic Party runs a range from Sinema and Manchin to AOC and Jayapal. The GQP ranges all the way from Ted Cruz to Boebert and MTG–metaphysically wide in terms of grip on reality but policy wise, pretty narrow.

    From that standpoint, I’m not sure that it’s possible to do “on the left” what Koch and company do “on the right” for the same reasons that left-wing talk radio didn’t work. How do you focus several discrete–and frequently widely divergent–messages into one or two talking points/focuses?

    4
  55. Mimai says:

    @Andy:

    There are very different flavors of “conservative,” for example, that are worlds apart. And the same is true for “liberal.” One thing I wish for is more descriptive political language and labels.

    “conservative” –> person who votes for Republicans

    “liberal” –> person who votes for Democrats

    😉

    3
  56. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @wr: Indeed! The Nation and Mother Jones do a lot of telling the same story over and over. Sort of like right-wing talk radio and Fox News–which I also don’t consume much.

  57. James Joyner says:

    @dmichael:

    You simultaneously say that “that very few are persuadable” and that “some significant percentage of “swing voters”” will see this as a “red flag.” If there aren’t many of them, no percentage would be significant.

    As demonstrated repeatedly in this very thread, most partisans will back their party’s candidate hell or high water. That means that competitive races come down to persuading the relative handful of swing voters and fence sitters.

    5
  58. Kurtz says:

    @James Joyner:

    We use debates as proxies for verbal acuity and thinking on one’s feet but, yeah, neither of those are really essential skills for a Senator.

    These debates are events with negotiated rules. The questions are predictable, and most moderators don’t take the type of control that would make them useful.

    So they don’t really accomplish the things that would make them a point of reference for voters. Not that most voters need more than one point of reference to make their decision anyway, and it’s the one that doesn’t change because of a debate.

  59. wr says:

    @Andy: “And I honestly do not understand how anyone could justify voting for one of the worst types of criminals.”

    Well, when the Republican party is running actual Nazis, I could justify it by saying anything is worth doing to keep from putting in power those who want to put us Jews, along with gays and who knows who else, in death camps.

    One is a crime against individuals, the other is a crime against humanity.

    Fortunately, Democrats tend to be a little more particular about who they nominate. We don’t run open pedophiles for office. That’s strictly the approach of the Republicans. So I will probably be able to vote against both the pedophile and the Nazi who wants to commit genocide with one stroke of the pen.

    3
  60. Modulo Myself says:

    We use debates as proxies for verbal acuity and thinking on one’s feet but, yeah, neither of those are really essential skills for a Senator.

    I’ve known a couple people from the deep south who used their accents to their advantage in northeast Ivy League settings. They played dumb, one to the extent of hilarity in that he would pretend to know nothing about anything cultural at parties when asked.

    Overall, there’s such a loserness about the late night television glibness of Dr Oz. It’s like Trump’s version of winning. It totally sucks. I think there’s a cultural thing where people who are kind-of aware of real winning think Fetterman sounds okay, whereas the insecure types think you need to win a debate to actually win, or something.

    I honeslty

  61. Modulo Myself says:

    That said: Democrats have a problem regarding disorder, whether it’s a guy with ink and a speech problem or a homeless man shooting up on a park bench. My approach–calling the person who has trouble with either of these losers–is not a good one. And the normal approach–asking for tolerance and empathy towards others and public programs to provide housing and treatment–poses more disorder for the person who is already the victim of the homeless person’s existence.

    We are at a point where tolerance and empathy represent a threat to a section of America and it’s hard to know how to get past that.

    1
  62. EddieInCA says:

    @Andy:

    In a contest between a Republican and a pedophile, who gets your vote?

    What a bullshit choice….

    A. In a two party system, you make the point that the Democrat is the pedophile. That wasn’t your intent (I don’t think), but it’s the logical inference.

    B. What known pedophile has ever been elected to a major office?

    C. How are you defining pedophile? I have an male acquaintance who is a registered sex offender for having sex with a 17. year old when he was 19. She looked over than he did. By law, he’s a pedophile. In reality, he should not be. The irony, he married her two years later. They’re still married. He’s, by law, a pedophile. I’d vote for him before most, but not all Republicans. I voted for a Republican mayor for lA a while back, Richard Riordan. Richard Riordan wouldn’t be allowed in the GOP today.

    D. You love your centrism so much that is affects your critical thinking; same as pundits like Smerconish, Dan Abrams, and Chris Cuomo. You’re so determined to see both sides of every issue that you conflate centrism with integrity, when in fact, you’re ignoring really, really big differences between the sides. MSNBC is NO match for Fox, nor an alternative. MSNBC has Joe Scarborough, Nicole Wallace, and other former GOP stars in it’s stable, and while some of their hosts, (Joy Reid, Tiffani Cross) go overboard often with their rhetoric, they’re not spewing lies every day all day, like most Fox hosts. There is no one on the left equal to Donald Trump, MTG, Jim Jordan or Matt Gaetz. Just none. There is no left wing alternative to rightwing over the air talk radio. If you travel the country as much as I do, you know how toxic and dangerous the rhetoric coming from those stations is. 1/3 of. Florida voters believe the election of 2020 was stolen. Where on the left is that sort of bullshit propaganda being spouted?

    E. There is no longer any space between “Good Republicans” and “MAGA. Republicans”, and to continue to say that there is is naive.

    F. The old joke comes to mind:
    Q: What do you call a good guy having dinner with 5 Nazis?
    A: Six Nazis.

    9
  63. Kurtz says:

    @gVOR08:

    But mostly there really is a “the Republicans” in a way there isn’t a “the Democrats”.

    I’m not sure what the average participant or non-commenting reader of these threads thinks of what I write, but I’ve made this point many times. At least a handful of those times, I’ve gone into fine detail about why this is the case.

    As always, YMMV and it’s easy to overplay one’s hand by emphasizing something too much, but I think the salience of this point is often underestimated.

    2
  64. Barry says:

    The press desperately wants Oz to win this, and has pulled out all of the stops.

  65. Barry says:

    @EddieInCA: “You love your centrism so much that is affects your critical thinking; same as pundits like Smerconish, Dan Abrams, and Chris Cuomo.”

    It’s not centrism, it’s taking a both sides do it approach to equate good and evil.

    3
  66. Andy says:

    @EddieInCA:

    What a bullshit choice….

    Touched a nerve? It’s a hypothetical, as I stated, one designed to try to discover just how committed people actually are to the idea of never voting for the partisan enemy under any circumstances. And, judging from the responses, people here are pretty strongly committed, such that partisan identity seems to trump every other factor.

    The irony is that this is the same rationalization that many Republican voters use to support Trump, Walker, and Oz. In right-wing spaces, I hear the same arguments you and others here have made, only in the other direction. You think they are Nazi’s, they think the same of you. Two sides of the same coin.

    How many times here over the years have I heard commenters wonder how anyone could vote for someone like “grab ’em by the pussy” Trump because he’s such a terrible person. And I agreed with that – I didn’t vote for him in large part because he’s a terrible person who had no business being President. And now you and others have your panties in a twist because I would dare to apply character standards to your candidates. It just makes me think you would be a Trumper if he had been a Democrat.

    I wouldn’t vote for Walker, period, regardless of his party affiliation. He has no business being in the US Senate. Let’s consider an alternate universe where Walker was the Democrat instead of the Republican. I think it’s pretty clear that most partisan Democrats would do a 180, stop talking about his cognitive and background problems, and support him to the hilt. To me, that just shows that all the criticisms of Walker’s character and cognitive defects coming from your side are bullshit because you value partisanship so much that you’d be more than happy to overlook Walker’s defects if it meant Democratic control of the Senate. You want to portray this as some kind of principled, moral stand, but in my view, it isn’t. It’s naked tribalism.

    So you can try to criticize my “centrism” all you want, but you still don’t have it correct and have failed to understand the difference between me and you after years of debate here. The difference between me, you, DRJ, and others (including Trumpers, who use the exact same tribalist, binary, team-player-above-all logic as you are using) who believe that character is much less important than which side they are on is that I value a candidate’s character more than which team they play for. Does that make me a “centrist?” I don’t think so, I think it means I have principles beyond tribal identity.

    As I’ve written many times before, I have a minimum standard for the quality of any candidate, and if I’m presented with a choice of two shitty candidates who don’t deserve the office, I won’t vote for either of them. You may not like that, but that’s not my problem and making stupid arguments suggesting I’m enabling Nazis won’t convince me. If you want me to vote for your candidates, then you should do the work necessary to make sure they aren’t turd burgers. Calling me names, suggesting I’m not “thinking critically” or whatever because I don’t drink your brand of kool-aid isn’t going to work on me.

    I don’t think that makes me a centrist, but I well understand that is heresy to partisans like you who consistently try to frame everything in terms of a binary and then twist logic to try to prove there is only one legitimate choice – whichever on is on your team. Critical thinking my ass.

    In my view, I’m the one doing the thinking here by evaluating politics, policy, and candidates by objective standards based on my values and preferences. That actually takes a lot of effort and critical thought, despite what you may think. It certainly takes more effort and thought than Pavlovian party-line voting based on a Manichean worldview. I’d say it’s pretty clear that prioritizing your team come hell or high water, is objectively a lack of critical thinking because you only care about one thing, that letter that appears next to a candidate’s name.

    @Barry:

    It’s not centrism, it’s taking a both sides do it approach to equate good and evil.

    No, it’s not believing that everything that one side does is good and everything the other side does is evil. People deploy the “both sides” argument every time their side is criticized as a way to avoid criticism. But the reality is that the world isn’t actually a binary good-evil construct.

    I have objective standards for what is good and evil that don’t depend on partisan affiliation. And I try to apply those standards evenly in everything. Partisans, by contrast, are simply biased to believe that their side is better. They don’t even pretend to have objective standards, the “my side good” is wired in and they bristle, start rationalizing and deploy the “both sides” argument when someone dares to point out flaws and hypocrisy on their team.

    And this results in a situation where the only thing that matters for partisans is being “less bad” than the other team. Everything is evaluated not based on objective criteria, but on what the opposite team has done or is doing. Stacy Abram’s election denialism is no big deal, because Trump’s is worse. Clinton’s “but her emails” is no big deal because Trump is worse. Our side is justified in playing hardball or breaking this norm because the other side is worse and we can’t fight with our hands tied. My President’s illegal invasion of another country is not as bad as the bad President’s illegal invasion. Etc.

    My view is to agree that some things are worse, but that doesn’t make the other things acceptable. The “he did it first” style of argument I don’t tolerate with my kids and it certainly doesn’t fly with adults.

    In short, if your standards of behavior revolve around your tribal partisan identity, then in my view, you don’t have any standards.

  67. Andy says:

    @EddieInCA:

    I wanted to add something in case you’re still listening.

    The irony in all this is that I probably agree with you 60-80% of the way. The last few cycles I’ve voted for Democrats almost exclusively except in some local races where your party put up a complete turd or incompetent. And before that, I voted for Democrats many times when they aligned with my interests. I’m currently directionally aligned much more with many goals of the Democratic party, even if I’m very skeptical of the means they wish to achieve them.

    Yet that doesn’t seem good enough for people like you. You can’t accept partial agreement and partial disagreement. Anything short of 110% in the bag for your team means I’m a “good guy having dinner with 5 Nazi’s.” The stupidity of that makes me laugh. What is your goal with that – do you really think that is going to get me into your camp? It’s no wonder your party so often engages in dumb circular firing squads.