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.

Build, Baby, Build!

There is no greater example of the wussification of America than the growing neglect of our nation’s infrastructure. Talk to a young man today, and he’ll marvel at the way his father’s and grandfathers’ generations knew how to make and fix things. That doesn’t just mean oil changes and water heaters; that goes for bridges and roads, too. When we were a young nation, we were imbued with that pioneer spirit—we would try to accomplish anything, no matter how daunting a challenge, if it was necessary to grow our country or expand our economy.

When Lincoln said we needed to construct a transcontinental railroad, we simply did it. The same positive reaction was given to Ike’s plan to build a national interstate highway system. We did it in short order, and it helped to make us the number one economy in the world. When Ike left office in 1961, the United States was spending roughly 10 percent of its nonmilitary domestic budget on its infrastructure. Today, that has fallen­ to 3.5 to four percent. We no longer have the world’s best infrastructure, and we are heading towards becoming a second-rate economic power.

Why has it come to this? Why have we let this happen? The answer lies with our elected officials. Firstly, they have made the allocation of infrastructure spending political. The funds aren’t distributed where they’re needed, where they’ll get the best return for the investment. They have been, in great part, allocated by who has the most powerful congressman or senator. Hence we have the Big Dig and the “Bridge to Nowhere.” This lack of accountability and transparency has eroded the public’s confidence in infrastructure spending. (The polls show quite emphatically, however, that the public supports increased spending if it’s based on merit, on sound cost-benefit analysis.) Second, my friend Mika Brzezinski, the co-anchor of Morning Joe, says that “infrastructure” is the least sexy word in the English language. By that, she means it’s hard to get people riled up about infrastructure. They understand that it’s important, but it takes a backseat to what are perceived as more immediate and pressing needs. It’s easy to say we’ll get to that next year.

Third, and by far the most important reason, is that it’s all the fault of wuss politicians and a man named Grover—Grover Norquist, perhaps the most powerful man in America (a point he’s never been known to argue). Grover, the founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform, has terrified our Congress, and many of our governors and state legislatures, into signing a no-tax pledge, promising that they will never, under any circumstances, vote to raise taxes. A total of 238 of our U.S. Representatives (a majority) and 41 of our senators (enough to filibuster and stop any legislation) have signed the pledge. Most of them know how ridiculous it is, but they must not have thought much about the consequences before signing. Either they didn’t realize how hard it is to govern without raising taxes, or they thought they could get away with hypocrisy. Now that they’ve signed this pledge, they are too afraid to do what they know is right. It got so bad that when the federal gas tax expired in the fall of 2011, the Republicans in the House of Representatives went to Grover to get his permission to reauthorize it at the very same rate. Good grief! They needed his promise that he wouldn’t construe the reauthorization at the same rate as a tax increase and, thereby, a violation of their pledge. Aaaaagh! A bunch of pathetic, hopeless wusses.