Tavis: Ed Rendell is serving the final months of his second term as Pennsylvania’s governor. Due to term limits, this is it for him. He is also the popular former mayor of Philadelphia and joins us tonight from Harrisburg. Governor, good to have you back on the program, sir.
Gov. Ed Rendell: Nice to be back.
Tavis: How’s it feel to be in the final months of this epic?
Rendell: Well, in terms of my own political career, I’ve been an elected official for the better part of the last 33 years, and will I miss it? Sure. Governing is a rare opportunity to use your skill and intelligence and energy to change people’s lives, and no matter what I do afterwards I’m never going to get that same feeling.
So yeah, I’m looking forward to the end with a little bit of melancholy, but I’m not worried about it because right now we’re focused in Pennsylvania on Tuesday and it’s a big thing. I’m about to get on a bus and spend the next five days traveling around the vote-rich Philadelphia suburbs, the city itself, the Lehigh Valley – Allentown, Bethlehem, Easton – trying to drive out Democrats and Independents and get them out to the polls.
Tavis: I want to talk more about that in just a second. A quick personal question, if I might, since you referenced it – politics, by most people’s accounts, has become so nasty, these midterm elections have been as ugly as any I’ve seen in my lifetime.
So I wonder how it is that you have not personally gotten turned off to the whole political process given how nasty and ugly and divisive and partisan it has become.
Rendell: Well, let me say this – part of me is turned off, and it’s not just because of the ads, and the ads are just filthy and vicious and disgraceful, but it’s also the process itself. Right now in Harrisburg, in Sacramento and Albany and Atlanta and of course Washington, D.C. it’s become so partisan and so ideologically driven that the business isn’t the same.
It used to be that Democrats and Republicans would disagree, but they could be social to each other. There were times during the year that we acted together in the good of the country.
Now literally every morning, one side gets up thinking of how they can get something over on the other side, and issues are never looked at is it good for the country, is it good for Pennsylvania? They’re looked at as is it good for we Democrats or is it good for Republicans.
Unless we stop this stuff, Tavis, and I’m not sure we can, unless we put the genie back in the bottle, this country is in serious trouble.
Tavis: So why, then, against that backdrop, do you think that Democrats have a shot in Pennsylvania in this hot Senate race, or for that matter in the governor’s race?
Rendell: Well, here’s why. I give the news media a little bit of credit. Back in 1994 when the Republicans swept the Congress and took over the Congress, people really didn’t see it coming. But since June the media has been harping about this enthusiasm gap, this enthusiasm gap, and finally I think it’s gotten through to Democrats that they’d better vote.
The same Democrats who in late August or around Labor Day were saying they weren’t likely to vote to pollsters are now saying they are going to vote, and that’s the reason in California, in Pennsylvania you’re seeing significant Democratic movement all across the board.
Whether it’s enough movement to keep away this tidal wave it’s hard to tell, but look at Joe Sestak. Three weeks ago he was 12 points down in the polls; now he’s ahead in a couple of polls and within the margin of error in others.
Look, Joe’s a relentless campaigner. I don’t know if you’re old enough to remember the horse Silky Sullivan who came from way behind. I call him the Silky Sullivan of politics. He’s benefitting by that, but he’s also benefitting by the fact that the president’s been out there, very effective in the last three weeks.
President Clinton’s been out there relentlessly, enormously effective. The vice president, people like myself. We’ve been just hammering Democratic voters with look, you may not think what’s going on has been great, and obviously the economy is challenged and we’re having problems, but do you want to go back to what the other side is offering – tax cuts for the rich and the trickle-down theory that never worked, never has worked in anybody’s lifetime?
What about all the hate and the meanness you’re seeing from the other side? Do you want that to become the predominant voice in Washington, D.C. and state capitols? I think we’re starting to get through. Clearly, the movement is there. Whether the movement’s coming fast enough and strong enough we’ll know Tuesday night.
Tavis: You’ve acknowledged in this conversation, and President Obama has so acknowledged over the last few weeks on the campaign trail that there is an enthusiasm gap that does exist.
Help me understand how it is or why it is, what it is, that Democrats are so unenthused about. They got what they wanted when Obama got elected two years ago. He’s put through some major legislation. Why are you having to beat the drums, why is the president out begging Democrats to go vote?
Rendell: Well, interestingly, Tavis, first and foremost there’s a recession, probably the worst since the Great Depression, and when that happens the party in power pays for it.
My popularity ratings outside of my home base in the Philadelphia TV market are at an all-time low, and that’s the same with governor after governor after governor across the country.
Incumbents get blamed when the economy goes sour, fairly or unfairly, so that’s number one.
Number two, in the victories that the president’s had – and he’s had an incredible amount of legislative victories – but the spin, we lost the spin war. We won the war of getting important things like healthcare legislation, but we lost the spin war early on.
Ironically, the greatest communicator in a campaign that I’ve ever seen in my lifetime, Barack Obama, his White House was terribly outspun by the Republicans. So for example, most people out there will say that the healthcare bill is going to add to the deficit.
Well, of course it’s not. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says that in the next two decades we’ll trim $1 trillion – reduction in the deficit – from the president’s healthcare bill. But nobody hears that.
The stimulus, the CBO, again, nonpartisan CBO, says without the stimulus we might have an unemployment rate two percentage points higher. That would be millions of more Americans without jobs.
But nobody believes that. Everyone says that the stimulus was a failure because it spent too much money and added to the deficit. Well, hold on – 40 percent of the stimulus was tax cuts, it wasn’t spending. But we got outspun, we got out-messaged, we have lost that war, and it’s very tough making up that ground. It’s a little bit like trying to run uphill.
Tavis: If I were a cynic, Governor – I don’t think I am, but if I were a cynic, I’d say, with all due respect, Ed Rendell is whining. He’s whining about the fact that the White House and Democrats got outspun. If you guys are worth your mettle, if you’re as good as you say you are, if you were this good – the Obama White House, now, I’m talking about – if you were this good on the campaign trail, don’t whine to me. How did you get outspun? That’s not supposed to happen.
Rendell: Let’s take healthcare for a second. Look at the things that have gone online thanks to the president’s healthcare bill – kids 25 years and under can no longer be denied coverage by insurance companies for preexisting conditions. Young people 26 years of age and under can be covered; it’s mandated that the insurance companies cover them on their parents’ programs.
Seniors get $250 checks to help them pay for prescription drugs, that big gap in the doughnut hole. Four thousand Pennsylvanians who are gravely ill and couldn’t get coverage, were dropped by insurance companies, are now in high-risk pools and are getting coverage. Small businesses – small businesses of 25 employees or less get a 35% federal tax credit this year. Insurance companies can no longer put yearly caps on the amount of money they reimburse for your medical bills.
Those are great things and wildly popular with the public. Why aren’t Democrats talking about those things? Why are they shying away from that stuff?
Tavis: So here’s the exit question. If we wake up next Wednesday morning and Republicans have taken back either or both houses of Congress, what should, what will the president say to the nation on the eve of trying to preside over a divided government?
Rendell: Well, his message should be the antithesis of the Mitch McConnell message. The Mitch McConnell message that slipped out is disgraceful. Mitch McConnell said, “If we take back the Congress we’re going to spend our time, our first priority is going to be making sure Barack Obama’s a one-term president.”
Really, Senator? With the economy in the shape it’s in, with the deficit exploding, with us fighting two foreign wars, your number one priority is going to be political? That’s a disgrace.
What Barack Obama should say is ladies and gentlemen of the country, I accept your verdict and I will try my very best to keep government moving forward, to keep it meeting our challenges by reaching out to Republicans and trying to reach a consensus.
He’s got to try. There’s no question about it. Bill Clinton did it very, very successfully after the 1994 election. He worked with the Republicans to pass a lot of very important legislation. I don’t think the Republicans are going to let Barack Obama do that, but the president has to be seen as trying.
Tavis: You have, for better than three decades now, served honorably in your state of Pennsylvania. I want to thank you for that and thank you for all the times you’ve talked to us. Whatever you decide to do in the future, you know you’re always welcome on this program.
Rendell: Thanks, Tavis.
Tavis: Appreciate you.
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