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John Fetterman: Time To Release His Medical Records?

John Fetterman. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

The one and only debate between Senate candidates John Fetterman and Mehmet Oz last night is dominating political coverage today. It’s not so much the substance of the debate driving coverage, but rather, the form. Specifically, Fetterman’s speaking ability.

Fetterman, the Democratic candidate, nearly lost his life to a stroke five months ago. Still, he is proceeding with his candidacy, while questions about his health swirl. Fetterman’s debate performance last night has amplified questions about the candidate’s health. And with good reason. Fetterman was not entirely coherent; he had difficulty speaking through simple answers; he hitched and delayed.

Now, Fetterman has been open about the lingering effects of his stroke, including the auditory processing issues that were apparent last night. Still, despite the auditory processing issues, Fetterman was “fluent enough over the course of the hour to present his Democratic vision for a state that could determine control of the Senate,” as the New York Times reported.

So a fair question for the morning after: is Fetterman physically capable of serving in such a consequential public office? I certainly can’t say. It seems the main question is whether Fetterman’s speech impairment relates to a meaningful cognitive impairment, whether his trouble speaking indicates trouble thinking. Or, alternatively, does Fetterman simply have trouble articulating himself while his cognitive function remains intact? If the latter is the case, then Fetterman is qualified for office. I mean, three of the last four presidents have had trouble articulating themselves. Biden, Trump, and Bush are not especially articulate – not by the standards of the general population – and certainly not by the standards of the presidency. 

But it’s difficult to determine the state of Fetterman’s health from watching YouTube clips – which is precisely what the entire political punditry is doing this morning. Fetterman could help answer questions about his health were he willing to disclose his medical records. Instead, Fetterman has maintained Trump-like secrecy with respect to his medical records, refusing to disclose them.

Pressure, which will likely crescendo after last night’s debate, for Fetterman to release his medical records has been mounting. Several media outlets, and Oz’s campaign, have called for the release of Fetterman’s medical records. And last night, the moderator asked Fetterman whether he would pledge to release his medical records.

“No, to me, for transparency, is about showing up. I’m here today to have a debate. I have speeches in front of 3,000 people in Montgomery County, all across Pennsylvania, big, big crowds.” When asked again whether he would release his medical records, Fetterman responded that “again, my doctor … believes that I’m fit to be serving, and that’s what I believe is where I’m standing.”

Fetterman’s physician released a statement last week stating that the candidate “has no work restrictions and can work full duty in public office.” But otherwise, the report was light on specifics.

Political candidates have been concealing medical ailments from the public for generations. Among the most famous examples are Franklin D. Roosevelt’s elaborate concealment of polio and John F. Kennedy’s elaborate concealment of chronic back pain. But neither FDR’s nor JFK’s medical ailments had a mental component. And it seems as though the mental capacity of political candidates, their ability to function in office, has been coming up a lot lately. Biden of course is turning 80 and appears to be in decline, which raises issues over his ability to serve. Senator Dianne Feinstein is – according to her colleagues – no longer fit to serve; her memory and cognitive function are declining rapidly. It makes sense: Feinstein is 89 years old. 

I can’t speak to Fetterman’s mental health. I hope he is fit to serve – coming back from a near-fatal stroke to win an election would make for quite a comeback story that should be appreciated regardless of partisan affiliation. But if he’s not mentally fit to serve he should not be serving. I know that may be stating the obvious but it’s a simple qualification that doesn’t seem to be earning proper adherence lately. Put plainly, public office is a consequential station, which deserves fit-minded occupants.  

Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. He lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken. Follow him on Twitter @harrison_kass.

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Harrison Kass is a Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison has degrees from Lake Forest College, the University of Oregon School of Law, and New York University’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. He lives in Oregon and regularly listens to Dokken.