What’s the Plan Here, John?

Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) campaigned and fundraised on being a “progressive.” Then, leftists were mean to him online for supporting war crimes.

Politics
What’s the Plan Here, John?
Photo:Alex Wong (Getty Images)

It’s the end of 2023, and it appears we’re also approaching the end of Sen. John Fetterman’s (D-Pa.) relatively recent evolution into a villain. “I’m not a progressive. I’m just a regular Democrat,” Fetterman tweeted early Monday, appearing to double down on a similar comment he made on NBC last week. “I just think I’m a Democrat that is very committed to choice and other things,” he told NBC’s Sahil Kapur while explaining his support for tougher restrictions on immigration and asylum, as well as his unflinching support for Israel, even as its gut-wrenching war on Gaza has killed close to 20,000 within two months. Apparently, his choice has been to turn into a cartoonish, warmongering provocateur.

“Weird, you were a progressive when you were begging me for money,” one Twitter user replied, attaching a screenshot of an ad from 2018 in which Fetterman wrote, “Chip in whatever you can to help us take this progressive momentum all the way to the ballot box.” The replies to Fetterman’s tweet feature torrents of receipts of him, not just identifying as a “progressive,” but actively fundraising off of this claim through the years—especially during 2022, when being a progressive was his main pitch over the more moderate Conor Lamb in their primary, and certainly over Republican opponent Dr. Oz. “So admit you lied to get elected,” one user replied. Others called him a conman, some asked point-blank for their campaign donations to be returned, while Twitter’s Community Notes cross-references a whole list of Fetterman tweets where he labels himself a progressive. Similarly, over the last week, Fetterman’s apparent immigration flip has a lot of people gawking after the immigration status of his formerly undocumented wife took a front-and-center role on the campaign trail.

Fetterman’s “I’m not a progressive” schtick is a pretty transparently reactionary move as he leans into his new position as one of the most detested elected officials among the left, next to the likes of Ted freakin’ Cruz. And all understandably so: Over the last two months, where other Democrats have stuck with the still-dubious “I stand with Israel” and “Israel has a right to self-defense” song and dance, Fetterman has taken it a step further. He laughed in the faces of veterans who were getting arrested for protesting against Israel while waving an Israeli flag at them. He stood by as security man-handled a constituent for asking him about his unconditional pro-Israel stance. He draped an Israel flag over his shoulders to attend a disturbing rally where attendees chanted “No ceasefire! No ceasefire!” and posed next to a New York City councilwoman who was arrested for bringing a gun to a pro-Palestine rally. The same day hundreds were killed in a hospital in Gaza, Fetterman declared that “now is not the time to talk about a ceasefire.” He also shared (and then deleted) a shockingly tasteless joke about reports of sexual violence against Israelis set against a Drake meme, all to “own” the pro-Palestine camp.

And through each of these stunts, the once-self-identified progressive senator has been viciously dragged by the same online leftists who once palled around with him and his staff. I can only surmise that the sting of this rejection is, to an extent, a driving force behind his recent, very emphatic insistence on not being a progressive. Fetterman once campaigned and fundraised on holding this political identity—then, leftists were mean to him online for supporting war crimes. And in the same way he once “owned” big banks and corporations, he’s now opted to own us, peasants who are begging for an end to the carnage, for an end to Gazan women subjected to emergency C-sections without anesthesia, and for an end to torrents of photos and videos of killed and maimed children.

It’s been pointed out on numerous occasions that Fetterman has always been pro-Israel—a stance that might have slipped through the cracks before the more recent, horrific developments in Gaza. But if Fetterman’s recent “I’m not a progressive” pivot were rooted in strategy or anything other than a burning desire to “own” the ~libs~ who now despise him, he’d probably just posture as the sort of run-of-the-mill, “progressive except Palestine” Dem that has no problem getting reelected. Instead, Fetterman’s right-wing turn is baffling because… really, what does this man gain from it??? Sixty-six percent of all American voters support a ceasefire, according to a Data for Progress poll, a number that climbs even higher among Democrats and young people–the very demographic that helped Fetterman win his close Senate race.

Even from the most cynical vantage point, if this is all about winning for Fetterman and not saving lives, his position doesn’t make sense. That is, unless his position isn’t about winning at all, and is just about “owning” his own progressive base. Fetterman won as a progressive off progressive support. Seriously, what’s the plan here, John?

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