Politics / March 15, 2024

John Fetterman, American Jagoff

The former progressive darling has decided to become the world’s most antagonistic Israel stan. It’s a very bad look.

Kim Kelly
Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., speaks to reporters in the Senate subway after a vote in the Capitol on Tuesday, January 9, 2024.

Senator John Fetterman (D-Pa.) speaks to reporters in the Senate subway after a vote in the Capitol on Tuesday, January 9, 2024.

(Bill Clark / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

“Not this jagoff again,” I muttered quietly to myself. It was another day that ended in Y, so of course Senator John Fetterman had posted yet another tweet reaffirming his support for the Israeli government’s ongoing bombing campaign in battered, bloody Gaza.

Over the past several months, Fetterman, who represents me and 13 million other residents of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, has unexpectedly emerged as one of Congress’s most rabidly pro-Israel voices. He’s not alone in his support of Israel—it’s the default political position for every mainstream Democrat or Republican politician—but the 6′ 8″ junior senator has adopted the mantle of Israel’s biggest, and most combative, cheerleader. It was a surprising heel turn from a man whom many considered a progressive voice in Congress—at least, before he explicitly said, “I’m not a progressive.”

It’s not that all of Fetterman’s positions are wrong. There’s no problem with his repeatedly calling for Hamas to release the Israeli hostages in Gaza—that’s fine. Everyone wants all the hostages to come home. It’s the way he’s gone about expressing his stance beyond that reasonable demand. Quite simply, he has decided to be a real dick about it.

Fetterman, you see, is not only pro-Israel. He’s anti-cease-fire, anti-protest, and anti–any scrap of dissent from US taxpayers unhappy about funding the murders of Palestinian children. His standard line, which he used on a pro-Palestinian veteran who approached him in D.C., is that people should “be protesting Hamas.” Well, we’re not sending Hamas billions of dollars in military aid, are we, bud?

Fetterman is also apparently a massive Biden stan, and has thus adopted a hyper-aggressive contempt for the president’s critics, lashing out at the “uncommitted” movement and any hint that folks might not be super excited about the idea of voting for an elderly warmonger. “You might as well just get your MAGA hat, because you now are helping Trump with this,” he sneered recently.

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He went even further in a February interview with Politico: “I said the same thing in 2016 to voters, I said: ‘Hey, you know what, you don’t like Clinton, you know what, fuck around and find out what Trump is going to be about and, hey guess what, how’d you like it?’”

Right, because it’s definitely not the job of a career politician to convince people to vote for him—we owe him the power to rule over us and do things that the majority of Americans disagree with (like, for example, refusing to call for a permanent cease-fire). People love threats!

Fetterman appears to relish every opportunity he’s gotten to denigrate the millions of US residents—including thousands of Pennsylvanians—who have called for an end to the state-sponsored brutality in Gaza, for Palestinians’ right to self-determination, and for a permanent cease-fire. Whether he’s sending ugly, increasingly low-quality tweets (not coincidentally, he’s currently looking for a new communications director), giving bloodthirsty quotes to the media about Israel’s “supreme right to defend itself,” or literally waving the Israeli flag to mock anti-war protesters, Fetterman has made his stance on the conflict clear over… and over… and over. He’s ignored Palestinian and anti-Zionist Jewish voices whenever he’s not actively shouting over them. He’s gleefully alienated many of the progressive groups whose support helped him clinch his Senate win, while delighting the MAGA-verse. We get it. You’re this guy now.

If only he weren’t, though. One of the most frustrating things about Fetterman is the way his constant bad-faith antics distract and detract from the actual work he’s been doing in service to the Commonwealth.

If it is even possible to forget his genocidal boosterism for one moment (and I’m not sure that it is), Fetterman’s Senate record is pretty solid. Since he took office last year, he’s sponsored or cosponsored 380 pieces of legislation, and the vast majority of them have been to benefit the communities he continually lifted up as his priority during his campaign: workers, farmers, rural residents, LGBTQ+ folks, and children. He sponsored bills to help mushroom growers and poultry farmers, and to fund research into organic agriculture; to ensure that peoples’ chosen names are used on credit reports (which would make it easier for trans and nonbinary people to avoid using their dead names or being forced to out themselves); to cancel school lunch debt, eliminate predatory lending, tax billionaires, provide hunting safety classes, and ensure that striking workers are not denied benefits under the SNAP program.

These may look like a grab bag of random issues, but taken together, they paint an empathetic and accurate portrait of the Commonwealth, its people, and our needs (with the very, very significant exception of Palestinian Pennsylvanians, and all the rest of us who care about Palestinian lives). There is a reason people voted for Fetterman, and it wasn’t just his Twitter antics or baggy black hoodies.

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At the beginning, at least, he seemed like he actually understood what working-class Pennsylvanians are up against, even if his own cushy background made it difficult for him to truly relate. We knew he was probably a typical Democrat in progressive clothing, but he didn’t seem like one of the creepy nerds that D.C. usually tosses out to the electorate whenever they want our grubby little votes. We knew he was still the lesser of two evils, even if he was fun on Twitter. If he’d been up against anyone besides an actual television clown like Dr. Oz, who’s to say how the race would have ended—and as it stood, Fetterman still only scraped by with 51 percent of the vote.

There were signs. The Pittsburgh DSA refused to endorse his 2018 run. He championed fracking; few could forget the jogger incident, when he chased down a Black man and held him at gunpoint (oddly, his victim later endorsed his run for the Senate). Most pertinently, he was very open about his support of Israel, telling a Jewish publication during his campaign that he was “not really a progressive” on the issue and that he was “passionate” in his opposition to the BDS movement. (Pre-Gaza, this didn’t make much of an impact.)

Despite Fetterman’s obvious faults, people were drawn to him and his glamorous, wonderfully radical spouse, Giselle, whose own story as a Dreamer and many mutual aid projects lent authenticity to his campaign. The press fawned over them ( I’ll never stop regretting my own decision to accept an assignment to profile him after he won the lieutenant governor race). His advocacy for disabled people and mental illness was refreshing in a world where losing one’s abled status can mean losing shelter, autonomy, or human rights. To many people who were tired of being presented with the same old carbon copy corporate clones, Fetterman seemed like a good time, and like he cared about regular Pennsylvanians.

Maybe part of him still does, though whatever good remains inside of that supersized heart of his dwindles each time he uses his considerable power to push for mass death and destruction in Gaza. It really is a shame to see someone who clearly has the potential to become a genuinely effective public servant give in to his basest instincts to needle, antagonize, grandstand, and bully those who refuse to join him on his chosen hill.

On March 5, Fetterman introduced a bill to create a national version of Pennsylvania’s extremely popular Whole Home Repairs program, which provides resources to help elders and disabled residents with cost-prohibitive home repairs. The original statewide program was spearheaded in 2022 by the proudly progressive state Senator Nikil Saval, a former labor organizer who has had no problem publicly calling for a cease-fire and urging Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation—which includes Fetterman—to sign on to the call. Despite their political differences, Fetterman endorsed Savil’s reelection campaign for the state Senate, praising him as someone “who not only has his priorities straight, but knows how to make things happen.” If only the same could be said of Fetterman himself.

It’s become apparent that Fetterman is angling to become the Democrats’ new Reasonable Centrist, who’s not afraid to pal around with Republicans or play footsie with their rancid policies when it benefits him and snags him another round of headlines for his scrapbook. With Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema fast becoming old news, there’s an open seat for the Democrat’s next self-styled maverick—and Fetterman seems to be hauling ass toward it, his grody basketball shorts fluttering in the wind as he goes. Meanwhile, the people of Pennsylvania—particularly those of us who refuse to endorse his red-mouthed war lust—are being left in the dust.

Fetterman’s total disregard for the Palestinian people and slavish devotion to the Israeli government’s US-funded efforts to exterminate them have left a rotten, stinking mark on his record. So has his recent eagerness to align himself with far-right anti-immigration policies via his “concerns” about the number of people trying to cross an imaginary line in the sand. Why is he all over cable news spouting off his half-baked opinions on what constitutes a “reasonable” border? Who asked him, anyway—and why has he volunteered to be their mouthpiece? We’re not paying him to give interviews; we’re paying him to represent our interests—and we’re rapidly losing patience with his shenanigans.

There’s no time now for Fetterman to redd up his act or refill the well of political goodwill he’s built up over the past few years. He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, yet has no empathy for the starving children of Gaza. He received a fine education, but said nothing when Israel bombed the last university in Gaza. His parents financially supported him for years while he was the mayor of Braddock, but he has no thought to spare for the Palestinian orphans or the parents who have seen their babies die under US-made rocket fire. He tweets about “the hostages,” but ignores freed Israeli hostages’ own calls for Netanyahu to “stop the war.

He’s just this guy now: “Genocide John,” a true American jagoff.

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Kim Kelly

Kim Kelly is a writer and labor activist based in Philadelphia. She is the author of Fight Like Hell: The Untold History of American Labor.

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