AT LARGE with TOM WILLIAMS: More observations from Ed Rendell

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 Last week frequent Ocean City summer visitor Ed Rendell talked about his book. The former governor of Pennsylvania, mayor of Philadelphia and chairman of the Democratic National Committee has written a book titled “A Nation of Wusses”.

The purpose of the book was to point out that our leaders – in fact, most of us – are turning into wusses. The best way to summarize his feelings is his quote, “We are being run by lawyers and insurance companies that tell us what we can’t do.”

Rendell, now a political analyst for NBC and MSNBC, is not one of those who hesitate to speak or act the way they feel, to do what is best, even if it has political risk. And he has a gripe with Ocean City, the vacation resort he loves.

But one of his biggest gripes is with a guy unfamiliar to many.

“It is unfathomable to me but Grover Norquist could be the most important person in Washington,” Rendell said. Norquist is a former lobbyist. “He has convinced 236 Congressmen, more that a majority, to sign a no-tax pledge. There have also been 41 Senators sign up, enough for a filibuster. Grover has no real power, he has never been elected, nobody has voted for him and he really isn’t a very impressive guy. I analogize him to The Wizard of Oz – you pull back the curtain and there’s nothing there. And yet, he scares all of these guys. In fact, when the vote to continue the gas tax came up, the leaders of the House – the guys elected to lead – had to go to Norquist to make sure it was okay to vote to continue a tax that was already in effect. What a joke! And what a bunch of wusses!”

The phone interview with Rendell was conducted prior to the Supreme Court vote that validated the constitutionality of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. But his opinions are still interesting.

“Whatever the court decides,” Rendell said then, “down the road the health care law will drive us to a single payer plan. And single payer makes senses for business because it takes businesses out of the role of providing health care and will level their bottom line against European and Asian competitors. But I don’t think single payer will be the immediate result.

“This is an issue where the American people will be looking for some answers. The problem is that many young people over 26 who don’t buy health insurance – they’re called The Untouchables – think they won’t get hurt, that nothing is going to happen to them. You need the mandate to get those young people involved.”

Rendell believes President Obama will be re-elected but that he needs to clearly explain all the benefits of his health care plan. If he is re-elected, would Rendell consider being part of the second Obama Administration?

“There is about as much chance of them asking a free spirit like me to join them as there is the Eagles asking me to replace Andy Reid. Frankly, I do want to have the ability to speak out on what I believe and if you accept a job working for the President of the United States you ought to understand that means you need to tow the party line and say what the White House wants you to say. I am at the point of my career that I wouldn’t want to do that. And I don’t think they would have any confidence that I would do that either so I’m not getting hired.”

He offered an example.

“I was a huge supporter of Hillary Clinton in 2008, not only in the Pennsylvania primary but even after that. I sort of became a spokesman for the campaign even as it became clear that Barack Obama was going to win the nomination. One reporter called me the ‘Last of the Mohicans’ for Hillary. After she conceded, the first Saturday in June in 2008, I was on CNN and was asked if I had been asked by the Obama team to submit papers to be vetted for Vice President. He thought it was logical because I was from a key state and, because I supported Hillary so publicly, it would be a good way to bind the wounds of the primary and bring the two groups of supporters together. I responded that I didn’t expect to be considered for vice president because I’m too much of a free spirit. I said that if I were running for President, I wouldn’t want me as Vice President. I tried to use some humor and I should have left it at that. But I have a tendency to stick my foot in it by saying things that, although I believe them to be the truth, are best left unsaid. So I grabbed my lapel. At that time, Senator Obama had been criticized for not wearing a flag pin. I said that might make us a balanced ticket because I wear a flag pin and he doesn’t. I thought it was funny. I got off the air and within a minute I got a call from (Obama campaign adviser) David Axelrod. He didn’t even say hello, just started talking in his authoritarian voice. He said ‘I hope you know that not one person in Chicago thought that was the least bit funny’. That ended my dreams of living in the Naval Observatory and attending a lot of funerals.”

Rendell also has some feelings about the possibility of Clinton running for President in 2016.

“I think if you asked Hillary now, even if you put her on sodium pentothal, she would say no and would be telling the truth. But she is very tired and Secretary of State is the most demanding of any job because you are constantly travelling. I thought she would make a great President and I thought that before she did such a great job with State. I think the American people are convinced that she would make a great President and, if she rests a few years, I think we’ll be able to persuade her to run in 2016.”

Now, about those complaints with Ocean City.

“My love for Ocean City is everlasting,” Rendell said, “but it took a hit. Corson State Park, at the south end of the island, used to have the one beach in Ocean City where you could take dogs. My wife and I had golden retrievers since the 1980s and goldens love to swim. They would chase a tennis ball, they would paddle out into the surf to get it and eventually learned how to ride the waves in. It was hysterical to watch them and they had the most fun. The dogs would live for that beach. We’d go late in the afternoon or early evening and I’d go in the water with them. We had such a great time. Then, over one winter, the State of New Jersey banned dogs from Corson State Park. They said gulls were nesting in the dunes. I wrote Governor Florio a letter and said the decision was ridiculous. I told him that dogs had as much right to use the beach as seagulls do. I also told him they aren’t going to hurt the gulls because they are birds and can aviate. I told him that the last time I looked, dogs cannot aviate. Governor Florio did not see the humor in my letter and the park remains closed to dogs. But I just love Ocean City. It has great beaches, the people are terrific and the Ocean City boardwalk is the best I’ve seen anywhere in the country. It’s a great place.”

Ed Rendell has been mayor of a major city and governor of a key state. Could he possibly end up in the White House?

“I’m not sure this nation is ready for a free spirit like me as President,” he said.

Too bad.


 Words of Wisdom: “I think Barack Obama has brought a new level of ethical standards to Washington. Has he changed some basic hard-knuckle politics? No. You need hard-knuckle politics to succeed.”

(Ed Rendell)


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