The Wussification of America
Updated at 6:20 a.m. on December 29.
Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, three weeks from the business end of his state's two-term limit on office, isn't going gently, although he thinks America is.
The governor, who moonlights as a football commentator, kicked up a snowstorm earlier this week when he blasted National Football League officials and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter-- a fellow Democrat -- for postponing Sunday's scheduled matchup between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Minnesota Vikings on account of the blizzard that dumped more than a foot of snow on the City of Brotherly Love.
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In an interview with National Journal hours before the rescheduled kickoff of what is now the NFL's first Tuesday night game since 1946, Rendell seemed more interested in expanding upon, rather than retracting his controversial remarks. He sees the missed opportunity for a snow game as a metaphor for "the wussification of America," evidenced by a laundry list of irritants, including, but not limited to, the country's sluggish economic growth, the District of Columbia's school-closing policies, and the lengthy medical warnings affixed to the end of pharmaceutical commercials.
"I'll give you an idea of the wussification of America," Rendell said in a phone interview. "Have you ever watched those commercials for the most ordinary product, and after you're through hearing the disclaimers, thought: 'Who in the world would take that product?' ... We're so worried about liability."
A onetime chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Rendell sounded downright Republican as he inveighed against the decision-makers who deprived Americans of a Sunday night football game in the driving snow. "We've got the nanny state; now we've got the nanny NFL," he lamented.
Rendell is ceding nothing to Sarah Palin when it comes to mushing ability. As a young district attorney in the 1980s, "I walked a mile and a half to the office, through 24 inches of snow, and none of it was shoveled," he said. "People don't do that anymore."
The NFL's slavish respect for Mother Nature is a sign of a larger national timidity, the governor added. "Forget this football game; how many times have you seen schools close? Washington, D.C., closes with two inches of snow," he said.
"We've lost our boldness, we've lost our courage, we've lost our pioneer spirit, we've lost our sense of adventure," Rendell continued. "I don't think Americans are willing to take prudent risks anymore. It's symptomatic of the fact that business is reluctant to invest, and they use every excuse in the world.... In the old days, entrepreneurs believed in themselves, they believed in their product -- they would've been out there pumping."
Rendell's rant has made him a celebrity in the closing days of his term. It started last weekend when the NFL pushed the game back two days, leaving fans with a Sunday night devoid of pigskin drama. "Football is a cold-weather sport," Rendell snapped during an interview on Philadelphia's Fox 29. "It should be played unless there are blizzard conditions. This is in no way, shape, or form a blizzard.... It's football. Good Lord."
He then broadened his lament, borrowing some of the outrage -- and a few choice lines -- from Philadelphia Daily News columnist Will Bunch. "We've become a nation of wusses. The Chinese are kicking our butt in everything," Rendell said. "If this was in China, do you think the Chinese would have called off the game? People would have been marching down to the stadium; they would have walked, and they would have been doing calculus on the way down.
"What do you think Lombardi would say?" Rendell added, invoking the five-time championship ring-winning Vince Lombardi, the legendary Green Bay Packers coach and a talisman of toughness.
Since then, the governor has been everywhere -- lighting up the Web with his opening salvo; bullying into snickering submission Philadelphia meteorologist John Bolaris in a Sunday-night interview; popping up on ESPN; being celebrated on blogs for his tough-guy commitment to the game. Among other things, Rendell said he's penning an op-ed for The Washington Times. The list of interview requests, one Rendell aide said, is "a mile long."
The attention comes at an opportune time for Rendell. After leaving office, he plans to continue teaching one night a week at the University of Pennsylvania, appearing on Comcast SportsNet Eagles game-day shows, and is working on a book, but he also wants to "do something more," said his press secretary, Gary Tuma.
The governor says he's "astounded" at the interest he has stirred.
"I wish that my comments about early-childhood education created one-third the amount of interest I've created here," Rendell said.
For the record, his early-education stance is in favor of full-day kindergarten and smaller class sizes.
And, one would think, tackle (and not touch) football during recess.