Interview with Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell

Interview with Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell

By Hardball - April 21, 2010

RACHEL MADDOW: Joining us now is Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. He‘s the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Governor Rendell, thanks very much for joining us tonight.


MADDOW: State and local governments are in dire straits right now. You and I have talked about that before on the show. We are seeing protest about mass transit cuts and teacher layoffs.

What do you think the political impact is of the tough situation that cities and states are in and how people are reacting to it?

RENDELL: Well, I think you made a very central point in the early part of your narrative, and that‘s the conservatives have won this argument and they‘ve certainly won it over the last 16, 17 months-in the fact that the tea party gets tremendous-the tea parties get tremendous coverage.

And think about it-week before the health care vote, they had a rally in Washington, got 1,000 people, maybe not even that. The tax day rally, the big rally to protest federal taxes got less than 1,500 people showing up, according to their own organizer. Other people thought it was in the 400 or 500 range.

Gosh, if I had a rally in Washington to have stronger laws to protect puppies, we‘d have 100,000 people without blinking. And yet, the media, including the so-called liberal and progressive media, have given the tea party-ites elevation in terms of the impact they‘re having on the national debate and discussion-way above what they deserve.

And conversely, the rallies that you talked about, I think you‘d have to look pretty hard tomorrow in "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times" and "The Boston Herald," in any papers, to find those rallies covered.

But people do understand-and, by the way, I think we Democrats have not done a good job making our case. Education matters-and spending on education, spending for quality pre-K and full-day kindergarten improves performance. Spending for after-school tutoring gets kids who are falling below proficiency levels in reading and math, up to proficiency levels.

But we haven‘t made our case very well. We, Democrats, I think, are responsible in part for losing this debate over the last 16 or 17 months because we‘ve been unable and willing to speak about or afraid to speak about what we believe in. The government effectively managed and effectively implemented can make a real difference in changing the quality of people‘s lives and creating opportunity for people.

So, I think we bear some of the blame. We, Democrats, and we ought to get off our duffs and start speaking about what we believe in. And the mainstream media deserves some of the blame for elevating the tea partiers‘ point of view and not pointing out the hypocrisy in what they‘re saying.

MADDOW: The hypocrisy in what they‘re saying and also, I think, the way that it sort of inflates the Beltway narrative about what-the way that they want to describe the country right now. It‘s sort of formed into this calcified common wisdom right now which isn‘t necessarily borne out by the facts.

But let me ask you about that, though. Whether it was because of inflated media coverage or not, when the tea parties formed, Republicans rushed to catch up with them. They really chased that energy.

Is it possible that on the left and in the center, the people are further ahead Democratic politicians on this issue, understanding the importance of what government does? Are Democrats going to be catching up to regular folks on this?

RENDELL: Well, I think so, particularly if we stop being afraid. Last night at an affair in Washington, I said that too many of our Democrats from the last 16 months have been cowering behind shower curtains and haven‘t gotten out there and spoke about what we believe in.

We believe that government effectively managed can make a difference in so many people‘s lives. And there are so many pieces of evidence to show that. And that government can work.

But we don‘t say it. We haven‘t been out there fighting. We haven‘t been out there supporting the president. We haven‘t been out there doing a lot of things.

So, I think, we bear some of the responsibility for what is going on. And the tea partiers have been the only voice America‘s been hearing. And I think that‘s got to change.

But, to your point-absolutely. I think that there are progressives in this country who are way out in front of the politicians, and I love the fact that the Illinois protesters were saying, "Show some guts," because I think that‘s exactly what we need to do.

If we‘re going to go down in November-and I don‘t think we are-but if we‘re going to go down, let‘s go down fighting for the things we believe in. Let‘s not be afraid, and let‘s not sort of let them control the dynamic and control the dialogue.

MADDOW: Governor, one of the reasons I think that Republicans and conservatives have been better at articulating the "government is bad" message is because the Republican Party really feels like it has to answer to the conservative movement. And the conservative movement has made-taken that on as an ideological hill where they‘ve planted their flag and they‘re just consistent about it, regardless of what‘s going on in electoral politics.

Are Democrats not respectful in the same way of the progressive base, of the unions and liberal groups and anti-war groups and feminists and minority groups and others that make up the Democratic base? Would them paying more attention to their base make them smarter about articulating a core Democratic message?

RENDELL: Sure, and also smarter electorally because turnout is going to determine what happens in the 2010 congressional elections, in my judgment. Everyone gives a little bit too much credit to the independents.

Look, we want to win the battle for the hearts and minds of the independents and for their votes. But it‘s also going to defend on turnout.

In Pennsylvania, we have 1.3 million more registered Democrats than Republicans. We‘ve got a governor‘s election and a senator‘s election, and, of course, all our congressmen. If we get a good Democratic turnout, we win.

But we have to give our base a reason to get out there, a reason to feel proud of who we are and what we stood for as a party. And I don‘t think up to now we‘ve done a very effective job in doing it.

MADDOW: Pennsylvania‘s governor, Ed Rendell-thank you so much for your time tonight, sir.

RENDELL: My pleasure, Rachel.

MADDOW: Appreciate it.


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