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EDITORIAL: We must condemn politicians attacking health of opponents

As the Pennsylvania Senate race heats up, some campaign tactics should never be used

The tactics used by the Mehmet Oz campaign urge us to consider what crosses the line of appropriate behavior in politics.  – Photo by Dr. Mehmet Oz / Twitter

One of the most important elections this year is the Pennsylvania Senate race. The contest between Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) and former TV personality and Republican Mehmet Oz has captured the attention of political insiders and has been a closely watched race. Both are non-establishment candidates who are tapping into populism, and neither are shying away from being bold in their policy or in their demeanor.

Both Oz and Fetterman beat more traditional candidates. Fetterman, known for his aesthetic of sweatshirts and shorts, beat Conor Lamb, who is currently serving in the House of Representatives. Lamb typically sports the more stereotypical politician look of a suit and tie.

Oz similarly beat out the more typical conservative, David McCormick, who is a businessman and had experience in government working for the Bush administration.

Oz and Fetterman are both considered to be more extreme. Fetterman an avowed progressive and Oz a devoted supporter of former President Donald J. Trump, both excite their respective bases but might turn off more moderate voters.

The race, though, has become larger than Pennsylvania and even larger than the Senate. Back in May, Fetterman suffered a stroke. At the time, Fetterman was not particularly transparent about what had happened. Certainly, as a candidate for Senate and as lieutenant governor, Fetterman should have been much more forthcoming than he was.

His lack of transparency, though, should not open him up to attacks and mocking, which is exactly what the Oz campaign has done. When Fetterman declined an offer to debate Oz in September for health reasons, the Oz campaign began taunting and even mocking Fetterman.

This turn from the Oz campaign might be because they are struggling in the polls, but it opens a conversation around our politics and just how low we as a country are willing to go. During Trump’s administration, we became used to the onslaught of derogatory language and inflammable remarks.

It is worth remembering that Trump mocked a disabled reporter and that he has embraced and given rise to the intense attacks against President Joseph R. Biden Jr.'s age and health concerns. While the health of candidates should be considered, mocking people, especially people with health conditions, is a despicable act and demands repudiation.

Fetterman could have died. Sometimes it is easy in such polarized times to dehumanize our opponents, to make them out to be evil, but Fetterman has a family, he has kids. He is a real person. Even if there are fundamental disagreements about policy, record or even about his health, to mock and to demonize him is to harden and worsen American politics.

Citizens generally are upset about the level of political polarization. Stunts such as this by the Oz campaign only worsen the political climate. Furthermore, it also discourages people from running for office. People want to get into politics to help people, not to harm or attack others.

This line of attack also has implications for people with disabilities. This is a slippery slope: If you attack Fetterman for a stroke, can people face attacks if they are deaf? If they are in wheelchairs? If they have other disabilities?

Candidates for public office should be models for citizens on issues of morality, ethics and character. They should be exemplary citizens who can inspire others to do great things, but to also be kind and compassionate people. When leaders lose the moral high ground, constituents become disillusioned. Perhaps this bombastic and mean-spirited nature of campaigning is one reason why 67 percent of people believe democracy is in danger. 

We need to forcefully reject this emergent politics of meanness. It is never okay to attack someone for health reasons. We deserve more from candidates running to represent us. Our politics depends upon good faith debate and considerations.

Election day is Tuesday, November 8, this year. We need to elect people who will fight for our policy visions, but we also need to elect people who will decrease the temperature of political partisanship and vitriol — not candidates who turn up the heat.

The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 154th editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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