To be fair, shorts and hoodies were pretty much John Fetterman’s brand, and they reflected the reason he was elected to be the junior senator from Pennsylvania. To also be fair, he ran for Senate knowing that there were rules of decorum which included a dress code. If he wanted to wear hoodies on the job, Fetterman should have run for a job where hoodies were part of the deal. Instead, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer decided that it was better to change the rules for Fetterman than require Fetterman comply with the rules.
The recent decision by Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, to relax the Senate’s informal dress code and allow members to enter the chamber in casual attire, or even gym clothes, has set off waves of consternation and cries of dismay in the stuffy upper chamber. Many senators, mostly Republicans, have publicly expressed concerns along the same lines as Mr. Vance’s, and privately have said that the change could harm America’s standing on the international stage.
What does J.D. Vance have to do with this? Nothing, really, other than serving as the tool with which the New York Times could open the story by pointing at the Ohio MAGA nutjob despised by NYT readers in order to manipulate the issue through Vance-hate before getting to the issue at all.
Even some Democrats say they are appalled. At the Capitol on Tuesday, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, said he had told Senator John Fetterman, the Pennsylvania Democrat whose hoodie-and-gym-shorts attire appears to have prompted the change, that he thought the decision was “wrong” and that he would do everything in his power to “try to hold the decorum” of the Senate.
Manchin, who’s at best a DINO in some folks’ minds because he isn’t a reliable member of the tribe, Is the closest they come to a counterpoint. Then they go right back to the evil tribe.
“Senator Schumer has done everything he can to destroy the traditions of the Senate,” said Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas. “It’s another indication he doesn’t respect the Senate as an institution.”
Senator Cynthia Lummis, Republican of Wyoming, said that “people who dress like slobs tend to think they can act like slobs.”
“We have a bad enough reputation for lack of civility and decorum now, and this just takes it to rock bottom,” she added.
Senator Susan Collins, Republican from Maine, snarked that she would wear a bikini on the floor of the Senate, knowing no one could unsee that. But what is missing is any serious discussion of what this is about and what it means, whether it’s form over substance or just a holdover from a time when people conformed to such stuffy and pointless dress codes that have outlived their usefulness.
The new rules, which direct the sergeant-at-arms to no longer enforce the longstanding dress code for members, appear to have been changed mainly to accommodate Mr. Fetterman. Since returning to the Senate after being hospitalized for depression, Mr. Fetterman has refused to squeeze his hulking, 6-foot-8 frame into a suit, navigating the Capitol instead in airy basketball shorts and oversized sweatshirts. The rule change will now allow him to enter the chamber, and even preside over it, in his preferred state of dishevelment, which doubles as a way to signal his blue-collar, outsider status.
“Oh my god!” Mr. Fetterman said sarcastically on Tuesday of the hand-wringing about what would become of the nation’s Capitol if he were to preside over the Senate in a hoodie. “I think it will be OK. The Republicans think I’m going to burst through the doors and start break dancing on the floor in shorts. I don’t think it’s going to be a big issue.”
Does it matter what Fetterman, or Susan Collins for that matter, wears? The first question is why this change happened, and the answer is that one person, Fetterman, didn’t want to comply. This is hardly an evolutionary moment, but rather acquiescence to one person’s idiosyncratic desires in a Senate too close for comfort. The Dems couldn’t afford to not have one of its own on the floor when needed, and like the small cadre MAGA crazies in the House who can twist Speaker Kevin McCarthy into a pretzel, Fetterman had the juice to make Schumer his pet.
The formality of the dress code performed two tasks. It conveyed a level of formality and seriousness to the task being performed in the chamber as between the senators, and it conveyed that seriousness to the public so as to maintain the appearance of putting the People’s business ahead of their own dubious sartorial choices. Granted, the dress code failed miserably to maintain the respect once had for the “greatest deliberative body in the world.”
But will the elimination of the dress code make it even worse?
It’s certainly true that one’s attire does not change the substance of one’s argument. Wear a bikini if you will, Senator Collins, but it won’t change what you have to say. Then again, can the senators take her words as seriously in a bikini? Can Fetterman command the respect he would otherwise possess as a senator dressed in gym shorts and a hoodie? You might argue he should, and you might well be right, but will he? And if he’s not, then is he shortchanging his constituents by failing to put their interests ahead of his preferred mode of dress?
There is something that happens when you dress formally. You feel more serious. People take you and treat you more seriously. This may not assure you that your voice will prevail, but it will certainly serve you better than a hoodie, no matter what J.D. Vance, Yale’s hillbilly, has to say.