Fetterman's hoodie vs. Boebert's handsy night: Why Republicans can't see their own hypocrisy

The Senate dress code whining isn't really about propriety, not from the party of Donald "Capitol Riot" Trump

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published September 21, 2023 6:00AM (EDT)

Lauren Boebert and John Fetterman (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Lauren Boebert and John Fetterman (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Let's just get this out of the way, since it will be tweeted at me a million times: Wilhoit's Law comes from a 2018 comment posted on the Crooked Timber blog. With devastating — and viral — precision, Frank Wilhoit wrote, "Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect."

The searing truth of Wilhoit's Law has been on full display this week in the disparate reaction Republican reactions to two alleged breaches of propriety: Sen. John Fetterman, D-Penn. wearing a hoodie to his office vs. Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., getting to third base in the very public audience at "Beetlejuice: The Musical." Well, the latter is not "alleged" at all, as Boebert getting handsy with her date before getting kicked out of the play was caught on a widely spread security tape. But, measured by volume in weight and decibel level, Republicans clearly believe that Fetterman being comfy while doing the people's business is by far the greater offense against basic decency. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., loosened up the Senate's dress code, saying, "Senators are able to choose what they wear on the Senate floor." Republican levels of outrage quickly surpassed their anger at Donald Trump for unleashing a mob on the Capitol that broke the windows and smeared feces on the walls.

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"Allowing casual clothing on the Senate floor disrespects the institution we serve," Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., wrote in a letter signed by 45 other Republican senators. Scott also called efforts to investigate the January 6 insurrection "political theater" and voted to overturn the 2020 election. On Fox News, the same network that repeatedly minimized January 6 a minor kerfuffle, the new dress code was described as "an abomination." Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, unwittingly insulted herself by threatening to wear a bikini

Republicans are living their own values when they back these ridiculous double standards.

This is all aimed directly at Fetterman, who is hated by Republicans for winning the 2022 swing state election, and who has taken on almost demonic proportions in the GOP imagination. This is doubly comical in light of their corresponding lack of outrage over Boebert vaping, acting like an ass, and groping her date's crotch in an audience where children were present. 

Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Tex. ranted at length on Twitter about "the lowest common denominator" and how "Senator John Fetterman is emblematic of the downfall of society." 

On the subject of his fellow Republican's enjoyment of public sex acts, however, Crenshaw was notably silent:

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., used Twitter to call Fetterman's hoodies "disgraceful." But even though she privately has no love for Boebert, she also has no interest in being seen disapproving publicly of Boebert's behavior. 

"Double standard" doesn't adequately describe what's going on here, since Fetterman's sartorial choices harm no one, whereas disrupting a play with public sex acts is possibly criminal behavior. The word "hypocrisy" gets thrown around a lot by Republican critics. But that word fails to capture the situation, especially the lack of shame Republicans display when denouncing hoodies on Democrats while shrugging it off when members of their own party engage in public indecency, rape, and seditious conspiracy. 

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The hypocrite is someone who doesn't live by their own values. But, as Wilhoit's Law suggests, Republicans are living their own values when they back these ridiculous double standards. They really and truly believe rules are for other people, namely Democrats, and not for them.

It really comes down to a Republican belief that they are the only legitimate Americans and that Democrats are trespassers.

Wilhoit's Law is funny, but digging deeper suggests there's an ideology and worldview that guides it that is far more disturbing than mere hypocrisy. It really comes down to a Republican belief that they are the only legitimate Americans and that Democrats are trespassers. The pretext may change — today it's Fetterman's hoodie while in the past it was "Clinton's emails" or "Obama's birth certificate" — but the underlying impulse remains the same. There are all different ways for Republicans to express the fundamental belief that Democrats are illegitimate. 

Trump's Big Lie was the most blatant manifestation of this GOP viewpoint. He never needed actual evidence of "voter fraud," because to Trump and his followers, it was self-evident that any vote cast for a Democrat was inherently fraudulent. On January 6, Trump famously told the crowd, "If you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore." That is the rhetoric of people who believe this country belongs to them alone, and who simply do not accept that people have a right to vote for anyone but a Republican. 

This viewpoint is also seen in the recent enthusiasm Republicans display for impeaching public officials for the "high crime" of being Democrats. House Republicans can barely be bothered to erect a fake excuse for their upcoming impeachment of President Joe Biden, as it's obvious that his only transgression is being a Democrat. Same story with efforts to impeach the recently elected Judge Janet Protasiewicz in Wisconsin or Judge Anita Earls of North Carolina. No one has actually accused either woman of a crime, or even of wearing a hoodie to work. It's just that they are Democrats. We also see this in the ouster of elected officials from state houses in Tennessee and Montana. Feigned umbrage over "propriety" is a paper-thin cover for the real GOP motivation: a belief that no one Democrats vote for is legitimately elected. 

The hoodies vs. hand jobs debate only touches the surface of what is really a debate over who deserves to have a voice in American politics and who does not.

The special loathing that Republicans have for Fetterman has nothing to do with his hoodies. It's because he won in Pennsylvania. Republicans have a special anger over states where racially diverse urban centers help push Democratic candidates over the finish line in close elections because they don't think those voters should have a voice in the first place. (This is also why you hear so much Republican vitriol over Chicago, because Illinois wouldn't be a blue state without it.) For people who quietly think the only "real" voters in Pennsylvania live outside the cities, Fetterman's continued presence in the Senate is a special irritation. 

"Propriety" is an ambiguous and ever-shifting concept, which makes it perfect for Republicans looking for a pretext to deny the legitmacy of Democrats. They're desperate to say that Fetterman doesn't belong, and will grab onto any excuse, even something as dumb as an oversized hoodie. But, of course, the real reason Republicans don't want Fetterman around is because they don't think his voters had a right to choose him in the first place. 

Fetterman has reacted to all the abuse with the casual wit that's made him such a beloved figure in Pennsylvania politics. "I figure if I take up vaping and grabbing the hog during a live musical, they'll make me a folk hero," he tweeted on Tuesday. In response to Greene, he quipped, "she runs on more and more ding-a-ling pics," a reference to how Greene tried to garner attention during a House hearing, by showing naked videos of Hunter Biden obtained off a shadily sourced laptop. 

This flavor of Republican bullshit is funny, of course. But it's also deeply dangerous. Their belief that they're the only "real" Americans is what fueled the January 6 insurrection and is why most Republican voters are eager to vote for Trump again, despite his attempted coup. The hoodies vs. hand jobs debate only touches the surface of what is really a debate over who deserves to have a voice in American politics and who does not. As long as Republicans and their voters cling to their foul notions of what constitutes "legitimate" citizenship, they remain a dangerous threat to democracy. 

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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Commentary John Fetterman Lauren Boebert Senate Dress Code