By Megan Meehan
The importance of getting involved in politics and the significance of bravery in elected leaders were former Gov. Edward Rendell’s themes during a visit to Rider on April 1. The event was sponsored by the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics.
Rendell served as governor of Pennsylvania for two terms, where he focused on making the government more responsive to the needs of the public. He is also the former mayor of Philadelphia, serving two terms and overcoming huge financial difficulties. At one point, he earned the nickname of “America’s mayor” because of his great popularity.
“I am glad to be here because one of the most important things I think we can do is to get young people interested in politics and government,” he said. “There’s no telling what can happen when young people get energized, not only to become voters or activists, but to become involved in politics and government themselves.”
In 2012, Rendell published a book, A Nation of Wusses: How America’s Leaders Lost the Guts to Make Us Great. His book describes how the leaders of the country won’t put their necks on the line for the greater good of the people if it means they have to make any sacrifices for themselves.
Throughout the speech, Rendell talked about the significance of having a career in public service.
“One of the reasons I wrote my book was to try to inspire young people to pursue a career in public service,” he said. “And by public service I don’t just mean elected office. I wanted to inspire them to go into government, to work as a deputy city planner, an assistant water commissioner, a specialist in the Department of Environmental Protection, things like that.”
Rendell believes that it is important for young people to know that public service is fulfilling and exciting.
“I would get up every morning, knowing that they were paying me to use my talent and energy to make people’s lives better, sometimes 12 and a half million people at a time, when I was governor of Pennsylvania,” Rendell said. “But sometimes, just one person at a time.”
Rendell emphasized the importance of public service.
“It’s an amazing gift,” Rendell said. “You feel terrific about yourself and what you’re doing. It’s an amazing thing, and I hope that many more of our young people will look to public service as a way of living their lives. It’s a great experience.”
Rendell also talked about the importance of bravery as a quality of politicians. It is his belief that many politicians treat their career like a popularity contest; however, in order to make a change, politicians may have to make unpopular decisions.
“One of the slogans that has always been my political mantra is ‘Behold the turtle: he only makes progress when he sticks his neck out,’” he said. My staff would say to me, ‘Yes, but he only gets his head chopped off when he sticks his neck out.’ It’s sort of the same thing.”
Rendell suggested that people look at the past to make future decisions.
“We have to get back to taking risks,” he said. “Think about our history. A nation of farmers thought they could defeat a country with a great military. We took a risk and understood the consequences. All through our history we’ve had the ability to take risks.”
He said that Americans must be willing to take action.
“What we need are citizen soldiers. If you are willing to go into Trenton or Washington for four years and make a change, you don’t have to worry about your career.”
Rendell argued that current politians lack a deep passion for core values and for things they want to achieve.
“They know what they don’t want, but they don’t have any deep feeling about things they want to have happen,” Rendell said. “Why are you bothering us with your candidacy if you’re not willing to take risks?”
At the end of the speech, Rendell received some audience questions concerning N.J. Gov. Chris Christie and whether he could win the presidential nomination.
“I think he will have trouble completing his term,” Rendell said. “I look at it like this, from the perspective of an active governor, there’s no way that my own employees would do something like this without me noticing. And how would he not notice? I wonder, how many contributors of Chris Christie were stuck in those traffic jams? If it were me, they would call me. They would call me up and say, ‘Hey, the bridge is all jammed up.’ I think he’s not even a factor.”
Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute, was pleased with the event.
“This was a tremendous way to end the public event portion of the Rebovich Institute programing for this academic year,” he said. “Rendell might not be in elected office anymore, but he clearly can connect with people and have tremendous insight into the politics of our day. It was really a unique experience, for anyone who attended.”