Ed Rendell Still Thinks We’re a Nation of Wusses

In an excerpt from his spirited new memoir, A Nation of Wusses, the former DA, mayor and governor dishes on the cheesesteak that changed his career, his buddy Bill Clinton, and why exactly the U.S. seems to be losing its mojo.

How Candor (Might Have) Cost Me the Vice Presidency

Often in my 33-year political career, I have gotten in trouble for things I have said. This occurs, in great part, because I have always answered every question I get asked honestly and bluntly. Although this caused me trouble in the short run, it has been one of my strengths when it comes to long-run popularity.­ A perfect example was my response on the night the U.S. Supreme Court decided Bush v. Gore, when I said that Gore “should act now and concede.” It got me in hot water with the Gores, the DNC staff, and almost the entire Democratic establishment, but people sided with me and almost universally believed that I said the right thing.

A second reason I have gotten into trouble for my responses is that I frequently don’t stop and weigh the consequences of what I am saying. My media director for my last six years as governor, Kirstin Snow, would stand in the back during my many press conferences and shake her head. She was clearly thinking about how she would try to clean up the damage I created at almost every one.

When I was governor, my verbiage seemed to get me in more and more trouble. Perhaps it was because I was receiving a whole lot more coverage. The election of 2008 began my rocky relationship with the Obama staff, caused by my honesty and quirky sense of humor. Of course, in the Pennsylvania primary I was for Hillary, and early on I predicted that from my experience running for office in our state, there were some parts of it where voters simply wouldn’t vote for an African-American candidate. That was absolutely true. For example, when I ran for reelection in 2006 against Lynn Swann, a number of voters in our rural areas said they were voting for me not because I was a great governor but because they wouldn’t vote for a “black guy.”

After the primary and Hillary’s withdrawal, there was some speculation that I would be a great vice presidential running mate for Senator Obama. The theory was that I would help bring over the angry Hillary supporters, and of course, Pennsylvania was crucial for a Democratic victory. In truth, there was never a chance I would be picked, for who in his right mind would want an uncontrollable free spirit such as me as a running mate—or, worse still, as his vice president?

But whatever infinitesimal chance there was went up in smoke when I was asked on TV about my prospects. I quipped, “Well, we would be a truly balanced ticket—Senator­ Obama doesn’t wear a flag pin, but I do!” Seconds after the interview, I got a call from David Axelrod, the Senator’s brilliant media guru, ripping me—and my dreams of living in the Naval Observatory and attending countless funerals went up in smoke. I told David that the campaign needed to get a sense of humor or they would never make it to November.