John Fetterman's shameful betrayal of the left

Watch out Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, a new senator in town wants to be most loathed by progressives

Published January 4, 2024 5:45AM (EST)

U.S. Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) speaks to reporters before a Senate luncheon at the U.S. Capitol on December 12, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
U.S. Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) speaks to reporters before a Senate luncheon at the U.S. Capitol on December 12, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Amongst Democratic and progressive voting circles, there arguably has been no politician more popular over the last two years than John Fetterman. 

The statuesque 6’8 figure has catapulted himself from mayor of the small town of Braddock, Pennsylvania, and a vocal fan of Bernie Sanders' presidential candidacy in 2016, to a competent lieutenant governor under Tom Wolf’s leadership in the Keystone State. And of course, Fetterman’s rising star status reached its zenith when he defeated the clown show that was TV personality Dr.Oz. Fetterman's focused yet funny campaign offered an effective template for Democratic candidates to use against Republicans: tell casual voters of politics, in direct and creative ways, about their conservative opponents’ hypocrisy. 

Fetterman became even more beloved in left-leaning circles due to the abhorrent, ableist attacks from the right over his various health scares. There was Oz’s shameful desperation in trying to use Fetterman’s May 2022 stroke to convince voters that the tall man wasn’t physically capable of being a senator and Laura Ingraham’s theory that Fetterman's hospitalization for feeling lightheaded 10 months ago was part of a “strategic political calculation” plot by Fetterman's wife to transform him into a national sympathetic figure and even an inspirational champion. The eternal conspiracy theorists of QAnon believed that Fetterman had a body double impersonating him. And as if he needed any more people to view him as a rare, relatable personality in the millionaire-filled, out-of-touch Senate, Fetterman’s desire to casually dress in the chamber instead of adhering to its stupid dress code drew levels of ire from not only Republicans but also his fellow members of the Democratic Caucus. His response to his colleagues’ unanimous resolution to reinstate the formal attire rules was a timely, cheeky reply with actor Kevin James' viral shrug meme, perfectly summing up how Fetterman is hip to pop culture. 

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But as the tragic war on Gaza continues to unfold, Fetterman finds himself as the latest in a long list of Democratic politicians sadly punching left. 

Fetterman is acting like he wants to replace Joe Manchin or Kyrsten Sinema for the most left-loathing Democratic centrist in the Senate

As calls for Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel to adhere to a ceasefire against not only Hamas but Palestinian lives have grown louder and louder from progressive and the left online populace, only to fall on deaf ears, Fetterman has been proud to fully back any militaristic decision from the Israel Defensive Force (IDF). 11 days into the war, the 54-year-old announced his unwavering “no” perspective to any ceasefire. The many progressive supporters of Fetterman in Pennsylvania and throughout the country, who were the backbone reason he was elected, and gave him their impassioned support through the conservative echo chamber’s hatred of him, were alarmed at his tweet and urged him to reconsider his hawkish take, most notably 16 former staffers on his Senate campaign. He refused to relent on that position and decided to anger his core backers even more by wavering the Israel flag while they protested in front of him outside of New York’s junior Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s office. That same day, he told a pro-Palestine U.S. veteran protester that she “should be protesting Hamas” instead. When 411 anonymous Congressional staffers signed a letter advocating for their bosses to agree to a ceasefire in Gaza, Fetterman’s chief of staff Adam Jentleson sent a letter that stated staffers were prohibited from making public statements everywhere. That letter angered the Congressional Progressive Staff Association, who fired off a response on Twitter/X saying, “Not-so-gentle reminder — no office can prohibit you from signing onto an anonymous letter or survey if you do so using personal time and resources, no matter what they tell you.” 

As the days have gone by, Fetterman has only increased his dismissive approach toward anti-war progressives over this literal life-and-death crisis. He called a Philadelphia group of pro-Palestine supporters “pathetic” for protesting in front of an IDF-supporting restaurant whose former employee alleged she was fired by the owner for her contrasting views. And he went on CNN last week to blame those on TikTok for producing “warped” views of the war and feeling “they aren’t reflective of history and actually the way things absolutely are.” 

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Fetterman stridently declared to Politico last week, “I would be the last man standing to be absolutely there on the Israeli side on this with no conditions.” Somewhere, forever hawk and enemy of progressives Joe Lieberman would be flattered by Fetterman matching his sentiments. 

To that point, Fetterman has plainly stated“I’m not a progressive.”

Regardless of whatever perspective you feel about the war on Gaza, Fetterman’s rude, gruff side of his personality was always a major concern. During the primary campaign, he was dogged by questions of whether he has the temperament to be a consistent advocate for all. And for him to not even seriously consider whether he should be on the side of wanting the least amount of death, when possibly 20,000 people have lost their lives, is apathetic behavior. Apathy begets apathy, perhaps from the heart of his own voting block. It was already bad enough that he called justified votes against funding Israel’s Dome by the likes of the Squad, including the only Palestinian-American in Congress, Rashida Tlaib, “fringe” and “extreme.” But he has debased himself further in acting like he wants to replace Joe Manchin or Kyrsten Sinema for most left-loathing annoying centrist in the Senate.

He won’t be back on the ballot until 2028, but Fetterman’s abrasive attitude repels parts of the Democratic base as we head into the presidential and congressional elections of 2024. With Joe Biden currently having his lowest approval ratings ever, Fetterman has contributed to giving progressive Americans another reason to not get excited about those we elect and have high hopes for. By turning his back on those who cared the most to have his back, the Pennsylvania giant of a senator has unfortunately come up so very small here. 

By Andrew Jones

Andrew Jones is a sports and political journalist whose work has also appeared at ESPN, The Guardian, the WTA Tour, The Intercept, The Young Turks, Huff Post, Ebony Magazine, The Raw Story and Talking Points Memo.

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