Is Mitt Romney a wuss? Democrat Ed Rendell thinks so. Or at least, that is what he believes Romney’s now infamous “47 percent” remarks indicate.
The former Governor of Pennsylvania called Romney’s comments “the height of wussiness” as he talked politics and discussed his book, A Nation of Wusses: How America’s Leaders Lost the Guts to Make Us Great. Rendell was a featured local author at the 2012 Chestnut Hill Book Festival held Sunday.
According to Rendell, Romney deserves the categorization of wuss because his disparaging comments concerning Obama voters were voiced in private and were not based on facts. “The wuss factor is, Romney said something in private that he really believes – if you listen to him, you can tell he really believes it – and he says something different in public,” Rendell stated.
A Nation of Wusses gets its name from what Rendell considers a “crucial national problem”. American government is dominated by both liberal and conservative politicians who are afraid and unwilling to take risks, lest they lose an election. Worse, Rendell says, is that no one is willing to tell the American people the truth. Politicians’ desire to preserve their own power and status has caused paralysis in all aspects of government and society. “Our leaders have literally become afraid to do anything,” he asserted.
Tell the truth about debt
Debt is the “most important challenge” facing our nation’s economy, Rendell stated. He declared that everyone in Washington not only knows something must be done about the debt, but also knows the solution.
Rendell says Democrats have to tell their base, which includes the poor and seniors, that spending cuts have to be a significant means to reduce debt to a manageable portion of the gross national product. “Yes, we’ve got to cut spending. There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it,” he stressed.
“It’s hard, but the one thing you don’t want is for the Medicare fund and the Social Security fund to collapse and go away. And unless we do something, those are very likely possibilities,” Rendell warned. Increased life expectancy has put a strain on the social insurance programs, which, when first implemented, were never expected to support two to three decades of benefit payouts to individuals. Rendell said applying a means test could be one part of a “shared pain” solution. “I shouldn’t be eligible” for either program, he acknowledged.
Rendell says he believes the Republican base can understand that compromises such as those proposed by the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (also known as Simpson-Bowles) are necessary in a time where exigent circumstances prevail.
He accused Republican leaders of kowtowing to lobbyist, Grover Norquist. Norquist’s “Taxpayer Protection Pledge” has been signed by 95 percent of Republicans in Congress. That number includes 41 senators, which Rendell noted is “enough to filibuster any legislation out of existence.” Those 41 powerful lawmakers come from states that represent only 17 percent of the total U.S. population. Rendell says Republicans are scared to vote on any tax increase or closure of a tax loophole because doing so would violate the pledge.
This fear has led to an inability to compromise. “Think about it. The leadership of the majority party of the House (Republican) has to get a permission slip from Grover Norquist,” he commented.
Military spending is another topic about which Rendell feels both parties have not been truthful. The United States spends over $700 billion yearly on defense, more than any other nation in the world. Rendell explained that former Defense Secretary Robert Gates proposed cutting the military budget by nearly 80 billion, similar to cuts recommended by Simpson-Bowles. In contrast, the Romney-Ryan budget calls for a $2 trillion increase in military spending. “It’s lunacy,” Rendell remarked.
What do you stand for?
Before filing a petition to run for office, Rendell would like to see politicians answer to a litmus test. It would require naming three to four agendas they’d be willing to risk losing an election over in order to accomplish.A lack of deeply held convictions and the guts to make a public stand to fight for them raises the question, “What are you running for?” he said.
Rendell cited the Democrats who lost office because of their support of the Affordable Care Act in 2010. “If you lose your job because you gave 31 million Americans what should be a basic right in every civilized nation, then you walk out of that building with your head held up high. Because there are some things worth losing for.”
Rendell – a long-time gun control advocate – noted that he ran and won as governor in the state with the second largest National Rifle Association membership in the country, after Texas. “Everybody is terrified of the N.R.A. and they don’t have to be,” he exclaimed. Rendell actively supported a bill to limit handgun purchases to one a month. “What law-abiding citizen would need to purchase more than 12 handguns a year?” he challenged, contending that the restriction would stop gun traffickers and the straw purchases which account for 40 percent of guns used in violent crime.
As Governor, Rendell raised the second largest tax increase in Pennsylvania’s history – in his first term. Yet he won re-election, Rendell says, because of his record of accomplishment, such as taking an education system ranked in the bottom third in national testing and improving it to fourth best in the country by his last year in office.
Political leaders are not the only wusses in the United States. Rendell is quick to point out that Americans need to show some guts and start pushing back to their elected officials. Lobbyists are able to get thousands of letters and emails into congressional offices, but most Americans have never once written their elected officials. “You wonder why special interests control the government? It’s because we don’t fight back,” he admonished. “Citizen power is more important than campaign contributions.”
Despite today’s political climate, Rendell says he’s still optimistic about the future and feels there is a road back to compromise. He gave the example of the bi-partisan letter to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, commonly referred to as the Supercommittee, in which a group of 100 members of Congress urged working together to enact reforms equalling $4 trillion to fix the national debt.
Rendell predicts that number can increase to 300 to 325, enough to pass legislation into law. It will take a strong president with firm resolve and willingness to tell Congress they can lay blame at his feet. “It’s all about leadership,” he said.