When Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman announced that he had suffered a stroke – two days before the state’s May 17 Senate primary where he was the Democratic front-runner – he insisted that all was well.
“The amazing doctors here were able to quickly and completely remove the clot, reversing the stroke, they got my heart under control as well,” Fetterman said in a statement released on May 15. “It’s a good reminder to listen to your body and be aware of the signs. The good news is I’m feeling much better, and the doctors tell me I didn’t suffer any cognitive damage. I’m well on my way to a full recovery.”
Which is good!
But, compare that description of Fetterman’s condition with one his campaign released Friday afternoon (the timing, intended to bury the news, is not an accident):
“The stroke I suffered on May 13 didn’t come out of nowhere. Like so many others, and so many men in particular, I avoided going to the doctor, even though I knew I didn’t feel well. As a result, I almost died. I want to encourage others to not make the same mistake.”
So, Fetterman almost died? That is a VERY different story from the one his initial statement told.
It’s not hard to understand what’s going on here. Fetterman was the leading Democrat for the state’s open Senate seat. He didn’t want his health to be a top-of-mind issue when voters went to cast their ballots. So, he and his campaign downplayed the severity of his health issues.
It worked. He cruised to the nomination, carrying all 67 of the state’s counties. And, it wasn’t until after he was the nominee that outlets like The New York Times ran pieces like: “After Stroke, Doctors Look at Fetterman’s Campaign Trail Prospects.”
As the Times noted in that piece:
“Specialists in stroke, heart disease and electrophysiology said that some of the campaign’s public statements do not offer a sufficient explanation for Mr. Fetterman’s described diagnosis or the treatment they say he has received.”
Put simply: Fetterman and his campaign purposely kept the full nature of his ailment quiet until he had won the Democratic nomination. Now, with the general election still months off, Fetterman’s team is getting all the details out there so that it can’t be accused of hiding his condition.
Fetterman joins a long list of politicians who obscured the details of their health for fear of spooking voters. The most high-profile example is John F. Kennedy, who was afflicted with a variety of maladies as President but whose staff made every effort to present him as hale and hearty. President Grover Cleveland had a secret surgery aboard a yacht to remove a cancerous lump from his mouth. Donald Trump was the first modern president to refuse to release any detailed medical records. His personal doctor released a letter during the 2016 campaign, which he later said Trump dictated to him, arguing that Trump “will be the healthiest person ever elected” to the White House.
But, just because it’s common for politicians to fudge the details of their medical condition doesn’t make it right. If Fetterman “almost died” from his May 13 stroke, Pennsylvania voters deserved to know that fact shortly after – not weeks later.