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Chester County Press

Editorial: John Fetterman’s noble fight

02/28/2023 11:19AM ● By Richard Gaw

A mere 18 days after he was selected as George McGovern’s running mate in the 1972 Presidential election, former Missouri Sen. Thomas Eagleton was asked by McGovern to step down as a candidate for the office of Vice President of the United States.

In the course of his brief introduction to the nation, it was made public that Eagleton had been hospitalized for depression three times in the 1960s and had undergone electroshock therapy. Eagleton was forthcoming about his treatment, but in his haste to remove all stigma associated then with mental illness, McGovern caved to a faction of Americans who were led by their ignorance of the disease, not by their compassion.

Eagleton went on to serve two more terms as a Missouri senator.

As this editorial is being written, newly-elected Pennsylvania Senator John Fetterman is in Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, seeking treatment for clinical depression, very likely an after-effect of the stroke he suffered last May. His recent admission of his entry for treatment – and the overwhelming support he has received from the vast majority of his Senate colleagues, both Democrat and Republican – serve to amplify how far we as a nation have come in our perceptions about mental illness.

While the candor expressed by Fetterman to admit both his conditions and its incumbent frailties can be called courageous, it is being done in an America that has for the most part dropped the hyperbole of mystery and voodoo associated with depression.

In the fifty-plus years since the debacle of Thomas Eagleton, Americans have pulled labels off of the faded fabric of their hair shirts. We have learned that nearly one in five Americans are afflicted with clinical depression, and that despite the severity of its symptoms, it is a treatable condition, one that is expected to land Fetterman back in the Senate in a few weeks.

In the vast corners of conservative punditry, however, the fallout from Fetterman’s illness and treatment continues to ponder the Senator’s ability to carry on the task of serving the residents of Pennsylvania. His most severe critics have intoned that he is physically and mentally unfit for office, and therefore be removed because he has committed the nearly unutterable sin of being broken.

Two of the greatest saviors our nation has ever known were broken men.

Franklin D. Roosevelt began experiencing symptoms of a paralytic illness in 1921 when he was 39 years old and remained paralyzed from the waist down and confined to a wheelchair and leg braces for the remainder of his life.

His paralysis did not prevent him from serving more than three terms as U.S. President from 1933 to 1945, during which time he created relief, recovery and reform in the Great Depression with his New Deal; established vital social programs like Social Security; and led America through World War II by defeating the Axis Powers, whose principle members were Italy, Japan and Nazi Germany.

Abraham Lincoln suffered with a crippling depression throughout his entire life, a disease he referred to as “my peculiar misfortune.” He spoke frequently about suicide. He never carried a pocket knife for fear of using it to end his life. Concerned for his welfare, his friends removed razors from his room. He suffered two major mental breakdowns, once in his twenties and once in his thirties.

As the 16th President, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, calling for an end to the cruelty of slavery. As his country threatened to divide itself, he held the splintered nation together through the eloquence of his words and actions, and by defeating the Confederacy, saved the nation.

Fetterman’s detractors should also look around the chambers of our state and federal governments. Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth lost both of her legs in Iraq and is a double amputee. Texas Governor Greg Abbott was paralyzed in 1984 and became a paraplegic; and New Mexico Sen. Ben Ray Luján, Maryland Sen. Chris Val Hollen and Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk are stroke victims. Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey is recuperating from cancer surgery.

Every day of every week of every month of every year, Americans rise from their beds and do the jobs they have been assigned to do, and yes, some of them carry the unbearable weight of their vulnerability and their illnesses with them. They should never be punished for the strength they do not manifest, but praised for their pursuit in the face of unforeseen forces that attempt to bring them down.

We wish Sen. Fetterman the best in his fight and his recovery, because it is a noble one.


In response to “More and more dots,” an editorial that published in the Feb. 15 edition of the Chester County Press that criticized New Garden Township for not passing a line item budget contribution to Kennett Area Community Service (KACS) last fall, we issue an mea culpa and much praise. In its 2023 budget, the township’s Board of Supervisors did in fact earmark a $25,000 contribution to KACS, as well as contributions to ten other community agencies in the amount of $1.025 million. While we acknowledge the oversight, we do not relinquish the edict expressed in the editorial – that every municipality whose residents use KACS’ services follow New Garden’s lead and enact an annual line item system of contribution to the agency.