John Fetterman is back in the US Senate, and his political instincts are as sharp as ever.
The freshman Democratic senator from Pennsylvania’s greatest strength has always been his willingness to push the boundaries of the discourse with frank pronouncements, piercing jabs at hypocrisy, and devastating humor. If there’s an elephant in the room, Fetterman acknowledges it and then pokes fun at it. That’s what he did throughout his 2022 US Senate bid, in which he relentlessly mocked his Republican opponent, hapless TV doctor Mehmet Oz, for, among other things, maybe not living in Pennsylvania and definitely sounding like Dr. Nick Riviera, the quack who peddled snake-oil cures on The Simpsons. It worked. Fetterman beat Oz, flipped a Republican seat to the Democrats, and helped give his party a 51-49 majority in the Senate.
It wasn’t easy. Following a serious stroke that hit just before the 2022 primary, Fetterman struggled to get back to full strength during the fall campaign and his first days in the Senate. His mental health suffered, and in February, he checked into Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he was treated for clinical depression for six weeks. This tough time in his life was made harder by right-wing pundits and trolls, whose crude attacks ranged from cable news claims that he was “unfit to serve in the United States Senate” to social media suggestions that he was being replaced by a body double.
In an age of amplified misinformation, disinformation, and outright lies, Fetterman could have dismissed the absurd speculation as unworthy of comment. But that’s never been how the outspoken former mayor of the working-class town of Braddock, Pa., rolls. So, even as he was returning to his Senate duties, and making thoughtful appeals for people facing mental health challenges to get the help they need, Fetterman cut a video that mocked the trolls every bit as relentlessly as he had Oz during last year’s campaign.
In a video posted to coincide with his return to Capitol Hill, Fetterman appears in his usual outfit—athletic shorts and a dark blue hoodie—and addresses the camera.
“Hey everybody, it’s me, Senator John Fetterman, and I just want you to know that I’m back, feeling great, a hundred percent,” he says, before recalling, “During my time [in] the hospital, the fringy fringies really came up with a conspiracy theory that I have a body double. And I just want you to know that’s just crazy. That’s not true.”
Suddenly, the camera cuts to the door of the room where he’s standing. In walks Fetterman, in shorts and a white hoodie, to ask, “Yo, dude, John, what event am I supposed to be doing this afternoon?”
With perfect timing, John Fetterman the senator and John Fetterman the fake body double offer whimsical shrugs for the camera, as Bill Withers croons “Just the Two of Us.”
Thought it was time to address the rumor: I do not have a body double. pic.twitter.com/dndGUt9OK7
— John Fetterman (@JohnFetterman) April 18, 2023
The video garnered more than 4.4 million views within 36 hours of being posted and earned thousands of retweets and posts on other social media platforms. Philadelphia magazine suggested that the video, “with some enhanced production values, could very easily become a Saturday Night Live skit.”
Fetterman’s presentation even earned a nod from Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who tweeted out the video with the comment,
Funny wins over stupid. Great response from the senator from PA. I say: Lay off Fetterman’s health and talk about policy…. There’s lots of material that doesn’t attack someone’s misfortune.
On Wednesday, Fetterman showed that he was keen to do exactly what Paul suggested, and took up an issue that’s always been close to his heart. He chaired a hearing of the Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Food & Nutrition, where he led a discussion about the critical issue of maintaining Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. “Hunger is not a Republican or a Democrat issue,” he declared. “It’s all of our issue [and] we have to take it on. We need to come together and stop playing political games with Americans’ access to food.”
No body double could ever deliver that message as effectively as Fetterman did, as he recalled fighting hunger from his days serving as mayor of Braddock. This is one of the causes that got him into politics in the first place, and now he’s addressing it as a powerful and well-positioned US senator who is countering Republican calls for cuts with the message: “Cut SNAP for families and kids while pushing tax cuts for billionaires? Not on my watch.”