There he goes again. That was the topic of our lunch debate today at the office. Was PA Governor Ed Rendell's discussion of the impact of race in the Democratic primary in Pennsylvania over the top?
As Brett Lieberman of Pennsyltucky Politics, Ed Rendell proves a little too colorful, put it:
Will Bunch of Attytood called Rendell's remarks repulsive, Gov. Rendell celebrates Black History Month as only he can. Why?
Providing fresh evidence of why Ed Rendell may not be on anyone's shortlist for vice president or cabinet posts, the governor has opened his mouth and inserted his foot.
"You've got conservative whites here, and I think there are some whites who are probably not ready to vote for an African-American candidate," Rendell told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's editorial board as he explained why Barack Obama may have trouble winning the white vote. "I believe, looking at the returns in my election, that had Lynn Swann [2006 Republican gubernatorial candidate] been the identical candidate that he was -- well-spoken, charismatic, good-looking -- but white instead of black, instead of winning by 22 points, I would have won by 17 or so."
On the bright side of things, the governor notes that Obama's been able to draw out new voters to the polls.
It's repulsive because Rendell said it while he stumps for a candidate who is not black, Hillary Clinton. And Pennsylvania, while leaning more Democratic in recent years, remains a battleground state, so the message for voters in our now possibly relevant primary is that Obama might have a hard time winning the state, so maybe a vote for my white candidate will better help take back the White House.
This was also the majority view of the LLWL* gang, who argued that it was inappropriate for Rendell, as the Governor and a Clinton super-delegate, to introduce race as an impediment against Obama in the primary here. To them, it looks like it was done as a typical political smear. I, on the other hand, took the minority view. The truth is, he's only telling the truth about Pennsylvania. He certainly wasn't endorsing or condoning it. To the contrary, I think he was merely observing the reality of the political landscape in this state.
I've noted the rampant racism that exists in many parts of this state. The Commonwealth is the home of the Keystone State Skinheads, Raging Racists, and is a major rallying point for white supremacist activity. See also my piece on the Klan Rally in Gettysburg last year.
Rendell is definitely outspoken. It's something I like about him. I don't think it was done to inject race into the campaign here, it was voicing the fact that there is a faction who will never vote for Obama because of his race. He wasn't even saying that the haters were a substantial portion of the electorate, but in a close race, they certainly can make a difference. As I said, we criticize politicians all the time for never speaking the truth or taking a firm position on an issue. Yet, as soon as someone is honest about an issue, we immediately criticize them. No wonder politicians mouth words saying nothing -- it's the only safe course.
David Kurtz of TPM concurs with me, Rendell Probably Deserves a Pass, saying:
I'd have to say that whatever trouble Hillary backer and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell got himself into yesterday--over his reported comments that some whites in his state will not be willing to vote for a black candidate for President--was a result of his bumptious personality, and not a deliberate effort to cast doubt on Obama's electability or to otherwise inject race into the campaign.
"Sure there are some people who will not vote for me because I'm black and there are some people who will vote for me because I am black," he said. "But I think most Americans are looking for a candidate who can get them affordable health care and less dependent on foreign oil."
Of course, the news of Ed's remarks got picked up on the national level. Here's his video/explanation of his remarks on MSNBC:
The video of his original remarks is available The Pittsburgh Post Gazette.
* LLWL - Lady Lawyers Who Lunch (a/k/a, my officemates)
(UPDATED (2/14): to add cartoon by Signe Wilkinson, Philadelphia Daily News