Election 2022 Pennsylvania Senate

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania, takes the stage at an election night party in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) ORG XMIT: PAGP110

Ask any class of bright American kids to picture the beau ideal of a United States senator, and chances are that a dignified and middle-aged personage will appear in the collective mind's eye.

But take a look at the actual Senate's members, and it is not some soigné sophisticate who stands out. The big attention-grabber, rather, is the Democratic junior senator from Pennsylvania, John Fetterman, and that is not because he looks like a natural sidekick for such luminaries as Clay, Webster and Calhoun. Fetterman has shed some excess weight — he used to weigh 400 pounds — but at 6' 8”, he is never going to fade into the background. He is the tallest man in the Senate, bald, and unlikely ever to be mistaken for a matinee idol. He has appeared routinely wearing shorts and a hoodie and cast votes with one foot on a cloakroom floor to abide within the unwritten letter of the rules.

It was clearly as a sop to Fetterman that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer last week announced a relaxation of the sartorial rules, but that did not signify a wholesale switch to casual attire. Senators would be left to dress as they pleased and Schumer himself vowed to stick with suits.

Most of his colleagues share his conservative tastes. That much was obvious when a bipartisan majority forced Schumer to reverse himself and mandate business attire on the Senate floor.

Why Fetterman made a fuss over such a trivial matter is a question that must be left to the shrinks, although he is clearly something of an exhibitionist, which is hardly a rare failing among politicians

Schumer himself suggested the abandonment of a dress code went hand in hand with the free and easy mores of contemporary society. Take neckties, for example. There can be little doubt that an increasing number of men view them as pointless and uncomfortable. Fashion icons are increasingly seen around town without them. Fashions will always change; we have gotten rid of powdered wigs. Ties may be doomed.

But they will not go down without a fight; feelings run high on either side of the dress code debate. Sticklers for tradition regard Fetterman as a slob with a deplorable lack of respect for the Senate in particular and American institutions in general.

Those sticklers include the loose-lipped far-right Georgia U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who called Schumer's initial decision “disgraceful” while showing her own respect for Capitol Hill decorum at a committee hearing by displaying pictures of a naked Hunter Biden in flagrante.

Whether general standards have changed much over the years is impossible to say, but it is obvious from reports of ancient debates that toujours la politesse has not been an unfailing rule. Indeed, violence is not entirely unknown, and it is hard to avoid the impression that the language of political debate grows ever coarser.

Here chosen at random, is a recent quote from U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas: “I don't know what to say to my fellow Republicans other than you’re gonna eat a s*** sandwich, and you probably deserve to eat it.”

Members of Congress seem incapable of making a point without throwing in an obscenity. Surely it was not always thus.

Email James Gill at gill504nola@gmail.com.