This week, Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., went back to work after spending several weeks away from Congress due to being hospitalized for severe depression. But while Democrats, who were sorely pressed to maintain their narrow majority in his absence, celebrated his return, C-Span video of him chairing a Senate subcommittee provided sobering evidence of the recovering stroke victim’s limitations. Much like his disastrous election debate last October, at the hearing, Fetterman’s halting speech, barely understandable comments, and inability to communicate without electronic aid illustrated his incapacity.
But while Democrats are quick to slam as bigots anyone who had the temerity to notice Fetterman’s problems, they are not feeling quite so generous about another member of their Senate caucus. The double standard creates an ominous precedent that ought to hang over the 2024 presidential election.
While they’ve been circling the wagons around Fetterman, Democrats have been pressuring Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to resign due to the perception that she lacks the physical energy or the mental acuity to do her job. But unfortunately for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and the California Democrats who want to replace her, the ailing 89-year-old has refused to step down, though she has already announced she won’t run for re-election next year.
Feinstein vs. Fetterman
Feinstein was hospitalized for shingles in February and has remained absent since then. With no date set for her return, the vacancy on the Judiciary Committee, where her absence leaves the Democrats without a majority, has created a serious problem for the efforts of the Biden administration and Schumer to confirm federal judges. The duel between the ailing Feinstein and her party has, at least for the moment, benefited Republicans. But the implications of the controversy go beyond its impact on her desire to stay on until her term expires in January 2025.
There are currently four senators who are over 80, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who returned this week from an extended medical absence after a fall. Thirty senators are in their 70s. Whatever one thinks about the question of elderly senators serving, the campaign to push Feinstein out of her seat sets an interesting precedent.
Democrats have reacted to questions posed by Fetterman’s obvious limitations as a senator with both denial and an attempt to shame skeptics with pious rhetoric about ableism. They have attempted to depict him as a poster child for tolerance for those who suffer from mental health issues.
But they are indifferent to criticisms of their effort to push Feinstein out of her seat on the grounds of ageism, which have just as much validity as their defense of Fetterman.
Feinstein vs. Biden
Even worse, their belief that Feinstein’s diminishing capacities render her ineligible for a seat in the Senate stands in even starker contrast to the position President Joe Biden’s mental state has placed Democrats in.
Ever since Biden became their presumptive presidential nominee in March of 2020, ignoring his decline has become a political necessity for Democrats, and even more so with each passing month. At the very least, his never-ending stream of gaffes, frequent confusion in public, and erratic behavior raise questions about his mental acuity. Yet the corporate media treat questions about his health as off limits and proof of the bad morals of conservatives.
Still, as was the case with Feinstein until recently, the 80-year-old Biden remains fit enough to silence inquiries from Democrats. As president, it’s far easier to shield him from public scrutiny. More importantly, most in the party are coming to terms with the fact that they may be stuck with him for the 2024 election.
No matter his mental state, having spent his entire life working to become president, Biden clearly has no intention of giving up after only one term. He will have to be dragged from the White House kicking and screaming. The obvious alternatives — Vice President Kamala Harris or California Gov. Gavin Newsom — lack much appeal for the party’s grassroots or its donor class. So, many on the left are convinced Biden may be their best bet for victory next year, especially if the election is a rematch of the 2020 race against former President Donald Trump.
Yet whether you think Democrats’ decision to get rid of someone who can’t do her job is sensible or insensitive and nasty, it does raise questions about the same standard not being applied to Fetterman and most especially to Biden.
Feinstein has met her Democratic colleagues halfway by asking to be replaced on the Judiciary Committee so they can continue confirming leftist judges at an even faster pace than McConnell confirmed conservatives during the Trump administration. But replacing her on the committee requires GOP acquiescence and, for understandable reasons, Republicans are only too happy to let the current stalemate created by her absence continue. That’s led to mounting anger from Democrats, who think Feinstein is being selfish.
The empty seat on the Judiciary Committee has turned the issue into a crisis for Democrats, but many of them have been pushing for her resignation for years. Feinstein’s voting record can’t be criticized by the left, but she has at times engaged in collegial or commonsensical behavior that they regard as insufficiently woke.
Feinstein Too Reasonable for Some
In 2019, she enraged global warming extremists when she brusquely lectured a group of visiting schoolchildren about the importance of compromise when they began to virtue signal to her about not supporting the most alarmist environmental measures.
Just as bad from their point of view were allegations that she behaved decently toward conservative judicial nominees such as Justice Amy Coney Barrett, which some characterized as treating her with “kid gloves.” That’s despite the fact that Feinstein had intolerantly targeted her for her Catholic faith, saying that “the dogma lives loudly within you.”
That goes a long way toward explaining why Feinstein’s incapacity has been an issue for left-wingers who have no problem tolerating a leftist like Fetterman, who, leaving aside his hospitalization for depression, also still needs special equipment to be able to understand his colleagues and who appears to converse only with difficulty.
But there’s more at stake in this discussion than the Democrats’ hypocrisy on the question of fitness for office.
What if Biden’s Health Can’t Be Hid?
Democrats appear to be serious about asking the American people to re-elect an already diminished man who will be 82 in January 2025 and presumably serve until he’s 86. So, the idea that the questions they are currently raising about Feinstein can’t be raised about Biden ought to be a bridge too far even for inveterate Trump haters.
Just as important, they need to ask themselves in the coming year what they will do if Biden’s health continues to decline and ultimately puts him in the same position as Feinstein, where the problems can no longer be concealed. By declaring that questions about Biden’s mental acuity are off-limits or in bad taste, they are essentially setting up a situation where Harris being forced to step in and govern is a realistic possibility sometime in the next five years.
The only realistic alternative to simply hoping and praying Biden will continue to decline at a slow enough rate that his problems can continue to be concealed or smoothed over without political consequences is to begin asking the same hard questions about his health that they are currently posing to Feinstein. It remains to be seen whether anyone of consequence in the party has the guts or the wisdom to point this out before it is too late.