SEPTEMBER 5, 2012
CHARLOTTE—There are a few things you can always count on at the Democratic convention: There will be black people in the audience. No matter how passionate Dems are about their candidates or their cause, they will never have as much fun and debauchery as the Republicans have at theirs (that’s just a fact). No matter what city they pick, it will take at least seven hours to get from your hotel to the Hall. And, no matter who is on the ticket, or how exhilarating the Emily’s List lunch is, there’s no one better to shoot the shit with than Ed Rendell.
The former governor and I go way back. He was my mayor for most of the years I lived in Philadelphia, and an excellent one at that. I also did a story on him once. It was a century ago, but I still get a workout for it in Philly. My sin was printing all the colorful and salty—some might say trashy—things Ed said. He recovered nicely from the kerfuffle. I still get brutalized at Amtrak stations. But I gotta hand it to Ed. In the two decades since, every single time I’ve run into him, he’s been gracious, even ebullient now and then. Once, at a black tie affair, he told me he was following my career and was “proud of me.” That’s Ed. And that’s why talking sex talk in an on-the-record interview didn’t hurt him in the least.
I found him yesterday 14 miles away from DNC central, at a Barnes & Noble in a shopping mall in Pineville, North Carolina, hours before the start of the convention. He was upstairs in the cookbook section, sitting alone at a table, a Barnes & Noble manager handing him book after book to sign for their shelves. He said “about 10 or 12” people showed up (the last two just left). It didn’t seem to bother him, though. His book, A Nation of Wusses, is doing just fine. “We sold about 19,000 copies,” he says, “which I’m told for a book that’s non-fiction and has no sex and no violence is a pretty good deal!”
But jeesh, Pineville? Could he be banished any further from the kingdom? “We tried to find an in-town bookstore. … You’re right about the location,” he laughs. If we didn’t know better (there really isn’t a bookstore in downtown Charlotte), we would think it had something to do with the fact that Rendell—who in his book says he only wants to run one more race, the one for Hillary for President in 2016—has been breaking Obama’s stones for the past five years. He was a PUMA (Party Unity My Ass) guy in 2008, and he’s been a small pain in the ass for the White House ever since. His fans think that’s also why the fiery speaker (a less bullying Chris Christie) doesn’t even have an afternoon speaking slot in Charlotte. Rendell snorts. “Well, I can’t. I mean, I’m an NBC commentator. There has to be a line somewhere, right?”
I didn’t have an appointment to meet him, but Ed being Ed, we talked for half-an-hour about why Hillary will run in 2016, why Cory Booker is the biggest wuss in the Democratic Party, and how he thinks CNN should be blown up.
On the level of excitement this year (at least, outside of the Hall):
“In ’08, people weren’t excited, they were almost soaring, their feet barely touched the ground. It was once in a lifetime, once in a lifetime. This year, there’s none of that feeling. But there’s a grim determination to take its place. And the determination is both to re-elect the president—’cause people here think he’s gotten a bad rap for things that weren’t his fault—and also to keep the other side from getting control.”
What he thought of Tampa:
“Yeah, I watched it all. I think the Republicans did some very good things. I mean, Ann Romney’s speech was very good. Ryan’s speech was good, but then the blowback from all the untruths that he told sort of negated the value of his speech. I thought Romney’s speech—up until he launched into that diatribe on foreign affairs—was terrific. But then they blew Romney’s speech by having Eastwood speak. And so Friday morning, no one heard about Romney’s speech; all they heard about was Eastwood. So I think they missed some great opportunities. And then, you know, the guys like Christie and Rubio, who spoke about themselves and didn’t say a word about Romney. So, I would give it a B-minus, tops.”
What was your reaction when Eastwood was speaking?
“I was both stunned and I thought, if we had done the same thing—have a Hollywood star get up there and have him insult the president the way Eastwood insulted President Obama—they would have been calling us treasonists. Fox News would have been going berserk. And of all the people. President Obama, he certainly has his faults, but he is the least profane politician I’ve ever met. He never uses cuss words. And for Eastwood to imply that he would say Go F Youself was terrible.”
And the chair—
“Well, you know what they’re claiming now, that he asked the stage hand right before he was going up and they thought he needed to sit. It does not have a ring of truth to it.”
On Andrew Cuomo and Hillary Clinton:
I’m curious why Andrew Cuomo isn’t speaking?
“Well, that was his choice. … I mean, no, it wasn’t his choice.”
“I think they stayed away from… [He trails off for a few moments.] O’Malley’s speaking because he’s chairman of the Democratic Governor’s Association. So he’s speaking by virtue of that.”
I can’t imagine Andrew’s happy not to speak.
“I’m sure he isn’t, but if you had Andrew speak, what about Jerry Brown? He’s governor of California. You gotta draw the line somewhere.”
Do you think Andrew wants to run in ’16?
“I think he’s seriously considering it. Yeah, no question. But if Hillary runs, they can all save their money.”
It would be pretty cool to have a Clinton-Cuomo ticket.
“There was talk of that years ago, remember?”
Andrew’s done a pretty amazing job, don’t you think?
“He’s done a good job, yeah.”
And he has his father’s oratory skills.
“He does. But he lacks—his father had a great sense of humor. Andrew has no sense of humor.”
“Hard to find it if he does.”
You’re pretty close to the Clintons. You think Hillary will run?
“I think she’s tired now and she honestly means it when she says no. But I think if she takes a couple years off, she’ll be back.”
And will start to miss the whole—
“No question. And I think there’s no doubt that Bill wants her to run.”
On whether Republicans have more fun at their conventions.
“Oh, no question.”
“Well, they spend more money.”
And they don’t have guilt about spending money?
“None at all.”
Where here it’s like that liberal thing, we can’t have too much fun because there are people in pain.
“Right! Doesn’t bother Republicans, nope.”
On the biggest wusses in the Democratic Party:
“Ah, there are so many. Interesting. Ok, I love Cory Booker, but he was a wuss because they made him retract his statement [about attacks on Bain being ‘nauseating’ and ‘crap’] Remember that? And Joe Scarborough said [when he made the statement retracting it], ‘It looked like a hostage photo.’ That was so funny. Did you hear that? And it did a little bit. But Cory’s not a wuss in general. And the President wusses out on gun control.”
Why is that? When is that going to change? What’s it going to take?
“That’s the question that is legitimate to be asked and has no real good answer. And the thing is, it’s not even—you know how everyone says it’s death politically if you do it? There was a poll after Aurora: 75 percent of Americans want limits put on how many bullets can be in a magazine. Which of course makes a ton of good sense. Who would need a hundred-bullet clip? Nobody would need that. You only have that if you want to kill a lot of people in a short amount of time. You don’t need it for hunting, you don’t need it for protecting your home.”
So what will it take? How much of a slaughter will it take?
“Well, I almost thought it would take the slaughter of an innocent child. But that 9-year old girl in Tuscon, that didn’t seem to galvanize people. And what a sin. That 9-year old girl. All she wanted to do was to see her Congresswoman. It’s a sin.”
On how the Dems could screw up this week:
“I think the biggest mistake is that we’re too negative [about the Republicans]. Although there are a lot of areas to be negative about, I think we should mention them and we should highlight them and we should certainly correct the record when they’ve lied about things. But I think if we harp on the negative too much, we’ll have missed an opportunity. I think we should do some of that and certainly spend some time correcting where there’ve been untruths told. But I also think the President’s got to chart out his own vision for the future. And why his plan is a better plan than theirs.”
On writing the book:
“It was hard only because I wrote it when I was working at other jobs. [Those would be governor, then NBC correspondent and a bunch of boards.] But I wrote every word of it myself. And I wrote it out in long hand [on legal pads]. I’m a great believer in the fact that there’s a connection between the pen and the paper. And we saved every page. Because the press of course is very cynical, so they always think, Well, you didn’t write this yourself. So we just produced the long hand.”
Will you make money from this?
“Will I? Sure! You just have to make sure you make the advance. And I think we had to sell 5,000 books to make the advance.”
What was the advance?
Are you gonna write another one?
“I have no real compunction to write another one. I mean, if the spirit moves me, I will. But it’s not like I’m driven.”
On working for NBC and the problem with CNN:
“I like the people very much. Phil Griffin is a great guy. I love ‘Morning Joe.’ I like Chris [Matthews] a lot and I like Rachel [Maddow] a lot. They’re my favorites. Who I really like, and I don’t know, you guys probably don’t have time to watch her, Alex Wagner who does the noon show. It’s called ‘Now.’ She’s smart, she’s cute, she’s funny. You gotta watch it just once, cause I think she’ll be a coming star.”
What would you do with CNN?
“Blow it up.” [He smiles.] “No. What I would do ... CNN has a problem that they want to stay neutral, they want to be sort of the station of record. And that works during emergencies. But during non-emergency time, people want to hear, they want red meat, and they want to listen to people who generally agree with their point of view. So they’re at a tremendous disadvantage. And they gotta get more colorful people. They have nice newsmen and newswomen who are very smart and very able but they’re not colorful. They gotta get more colorful people.”
What do you think of Piers?
“I think Piers is a big improvement over Larry. He’s an upgrade.”
I love Anderson Cooper.
“Yeah, but Anderson’s a little serious.”