Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell’s romp through the media following the cancellation of the Philadelphia Eagles-Minnesota Vikings football game shows why he is often mentioned as just the person to bring the rarefied West Wing of the White House down to Earth.
Having trouble connecting with real people over there in the Oval Office? Rendell’s a human switchboard -- and he’s available starting next month, when his term as governor ends.
His latest pronouncement came on Sunday after the National Football League’s rare postponement of a game due to a forecast of snow. In Rendell’s world, real men live to make a touchdown in the snow.
“This is football. Football’s played in bad weather,” Rendell said before the storm struck his city on Sunday but after the NFL had postponed the Sunday-night game. He predicted the major roads would stay open throughout the storm.
In a welter of other interviews, he waxed nostalgic over great games played under the worst conditions, from the 1967 NFL Championship game (the “Ice Bowl” in Green Bay) to the 2002 New England Patriots-Oakland Raiders “Tuck Rule” game to this month’s match between the Patriots and the Bears in Chicago.
Rendell is one of the few unmanaged politicians left. If he hadn’t been Philadelphia district attorney, then mayor for two terms, then Pennsylvania governor since 2003, Rendell might well have been a sports broadcaster. Oh, wait a minute! He is a sportscaster, giving commentary on Comcast SportsNet following Eagles games for years.
As the snow continued on Sunday, he didn’t stop at gloating that every roadway had been “treated, plowed and passable.” Grandmothers in Buicks could have handled the Schuylkill Expressway. “Not one accident,” Rendell crowed.
By Monday, the NFL’s decision to postpone the Eagles- Vikings game stood for, well, everything that ails us.
“We’ve become a nation of wusses,” Rendell declared. “The Chinese are kicking our butt in everything. If this was in China do you think the Chinese would have called off the game? People would have been marching down to the stadium, they would have walked and they would have been doing calculus on the way down.”
Though his football remarks got the most attention in our sports-crazed culture, the throw-away line about China provided the legs that carried the story to “NBC Nightly News” and the BBC. Just this month, U.S. education officials were surprised by a report that showed students in China outperforming American kids by a wide margin in reading, math and science.
Trophies for All
Pre-wussification, we were an economic powerhouse, and our children were the best-educated in the world, until we decided to sheathe our little princes and princesses in bubble wrap. We give them graduation ceremonies for getting through nursery school, a trophy just for showing up at soccer. We’ve removed play from the playground to keep them from scraping a knee. We intervene like lawyers in every dispute.
At school, where the teacher should always be right, parents quibble over grades and behavior and prefer longer summer vacations to a longer school year, the norm in other countries.
In Shanghai’s schools, which topped the international test results, neatly dressed and engaged students work long hours on a curriculum that is creative and intellectually rich. Take no comfort in the belief that they study to the test; that’s what we do now, to try to get accountability into a broken system.
Americans-as-wusses was a disturbing thought to drop on a holiday-dazed country, but Rendell is known for going rogue, even on himself.
Despite loving sports, he isn’t always a team player. He bucked his party’s establishment and their handpicked candidate when he ran for governor. He happened to be on television when the Supreme Court ruled in Bush v. Gore and said immediately that Al Gore should concede the 2000 presidential election.
During the 2008 campaign, referring to the space between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh -- known locally as Alabama -- Rendell blurted out that his state was full of “conservative whites” who were “probably not ready to vote for an African- American candidate.”
He became an enthusiastic supporter of that African- American candidate, Barack Obama, helping to deliver his swing state. But when Obama appointed Rendell’s good friend, former Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, as Homeland Security secretary, he delivered this observation: “Janet’s perfect for that job. Because for that job, you have to have no life. Janet has no family. Perfect.”
He meant it as a compliment. Really.
The criticism of Obama’s West Wing is that it is an elite, inbred crowd -- a little wussy, perhaps -- that fails to connect with people even when it delivers the goods, as it did in the final days of the lame-duck Congress. Rendell, a cross between a steelworker and a linebacker, could be a one-man corrective.
After he moves his sports memorabilia and his two golden retrievers out of the governor’s mansion in Harrisburg, the only job he tells friends he’s really interested in is commissioner of Major League Baseball.
When asked on TV about whether he might fill Rahm Emanuel’s shoes as White House chief of staff, Rendell’s reply is always that the best man for the job is Colin Powell. When Colin Powell is asked about it, he says the perfect choice would be Ed Rendell.
Gentlemen, let’s toss a coin and decide.
(Margaret Carlson, author of “Anyone Can Grow Up: How George Bush and I Made It to the White House” and former White House correspondent for Time magazine, is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)
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