Ed Rendell has always been candid. So, when the former Philadelphia mayor was winding up his second term as Pennsylvania governor, he decided it was time to write his life story. “A Nation of Wusses: How America’s Leaders Lost the Guts to Make Us Great” (Wiley, $25.95) is a memoir that tells it like it is.
In it, Rendell explains why America’s leaders rarely call for sacrifice for the greater good — to avoid making any sacrifices themselves. According to Rendell, they’re all wusses — and after more than three decades in politics, he knows a wuss when he sees one. Among current office holders and candidates, he sees politicians pretending to stand on principle while, in fact, pandering to their bases; flip-flopping on issues, not because of new information, but because of new polls; and criticizing rivals for actions they would have praised if done by allies. While not at all shy about singling out Republicans like Scott Walker, Eric Cantor and Mitch McConnell, Rendell has no trouble taking on Democrats who refuse to stand up to the teachers’ unions or distance themselves from allies who run into trouble.
Rendell, 68, said it took him 18 months to write his lively life story in longhand. “I started in July 2010, the last six months I was governor,” recalled Rendell. “And because I was governor, I would write late at night and once and a while on weekends. And then I started my new life where I have 16 different jobs, so as a result I would write on trains, planes. It wasn’t uncommon for me to get home, eat dinner, do my day-to-day work and read my memos and then start writing part of the book at 10:30 — and I would look up, because I’d gotten into it, and it would be 3:30.”
In “A Nation of Wusses,” Rendell revisits some of the toughest fights of his career. “As I wrote I re-experienced, and I lived over again the things that I talked about,” said Rendell. “There were parts of the book that I wrote and I had tears in my eyes. Late at night I would be sitting there writing something, like the chapter on Haiti.”
Rendell was instrumental in the relocation of a group of 53 Haitian orphans in 2010 who were living in the post-earthquake ruins. He then pauses and opens the book to that passage. “I talk about the experience in Haiti, and the children who had never been on an airplane before: ‘As we were taking them back, we were on a huge cargo plane, a B-17, the length of a football field and it only had seats up against the wall of the plane. In between, there’s this huge space for weapons, and that was it. Half of the crew stayed on one side of the plane. The take off was as noisy as anything I’ve ever heard, not like a commercial plane. It should have been terrifying to those kids who had never been on an airplane before, but it wasn’t. They sat there calmly, almost happily. Here they are on this huge cavernous place, leaving a place that had been home all their lives, coming to a place they had never seen before to live the rest of their lives. Pretty amazing. All throughout the ordeal they had been pretty terrific ... Haiti still has a long way to go in its recovery, and the world needs to continue to help make that possible, but if these young children are typical Haitians, then their faith and spirit will someday prevail.’”
Rendell then shuts his book. “I had tears in my eyes when I wrote that. This was a very cathartic book of interesting and challenging moments in my life. When I talk about indicting the police who shot Delbert Africa. Arrgh! That was unbelievable! And in that sense, cathartic and enjoyable to go think about the memories. I had a great time writing the book, and I really wrote the book for myself. If it does well, then it’s gravy.”
This is a Philadelphia story like no other. Other politicians might have left out of their memoirs stories like what happened to their plaque in the park, the story of Swifty the five-legged donkey, a dirty Al Gore joke, the time they considered pretending to faint and who they’re already supporting for president in 2016. Luckily, Rendell is not that kind of politician. Complete with a scathing list of the “Top Ten Reasons Why Most American Politicians Are Wusses” and packed with uproarious tales of politicians in action that will make you wonder why these folks keep getting elected. Readers will delight in the honest revelations contained in “A Nation of Wusses.”