Karen Heller: On TV, Rendell's all the rage

Gov. Rendell being interviewed in August for Sunday's "60 Minutes." A clip from the show, in which an incensed Rendell rails against antigambling "simpletons" and "idiots," has gone viral.
Gov. Rendell being interviewed in August for Sunday's "60 Minutes." A clip from the show, in which an incensed Rendell rails against antigambling "simpletons" and "idiots," has gone viral.

Wusses and wackos, snowballs and low blows: Big Ed's cable-ready.

Posted: January 09, 2011

The Big Ed farewell tour continues Sunday night when he fillets and flambes Lesley Stahl on 60 Minutes.

After the veteran journalist questions the Slot King's adamant support of gambling, an enraged Gov. Rendell explodes with bared incisors and a chop of his hand. "You're simpletons. You're idiots if you don't get that."

Those are fighting words. They also make buzzworthy television.

By sheer coincidence, Rendell signed recently with the William Morris Agency and is looking for a post-gubernatorial commentator job.

Correction: a nonfootball commentator job. Rendell is the only sitting governor with a weekly postgame TV gig.

The Rendell 60 Minutes interview, taped in August, went viral when CBS released it Friday. Comedy Central's website turned him green, comparing the governor to the Incredible Hulk.

Which is so unfair. Rendell has lost a lot of weight.

Perhaps Fox has found its token Democrat, its Keith Olbermann. But with more rage issues and less sensitivity.

Rendell, as Pennsylvanians have long known, has a gift for gab. He also has a pronounced gift for gaffe.

"The biggest downside is that some people lose their paychecks," Rendell tells Stahl. "But understand, Lesley, they're not losing their paychecks because Pennsylvania instituted gaming. These people were losing their paychecks in Atlantic City, in Delaware at the racetracks, or in West Virginia."

Stahl says, "So why not lose it here . . ."

"Well, if they were going to lose it anyway, let's get the upside," Rendell tells her. "We were getting all the downside and none of the upside."

The upside. Like the last of their rent money.

In the past, Rendell has said gambling helps senior citizens "who lead very gray lives." He noted: "It's unbelievable what brightness and cheer it brings to older Pennsylvanians."

In the final weeks of his term, Rendell has assembled a powerful audition reel, showing a gift for verbal pugilism that plays beautifully in the combat zone of cable television.

Americans "can't seem to get anything done anymore," he said Monday on The Colbert Report. "It's time for us to start fighting back."

Fight Back With Big Ed. Like Glenn Beck without the tears.

The Colbert appearance came because of a previous outburst. After the NFL postponed the Dec. 26 Eagles-Vikings game because of a storm that brought more than a foot of snow and 50 m.p.h. winds, Rendell blasted the decision.

"We've become a nation of wusses," the governor said, forgetting he is charged with the safety of the commonwealth's citizens. "I think it is a joke. Vince Lombardi would be spinning in his grave."

Easy for Rendell to say. He has a professional driver. ("I haven't driven in 20 years," he told Colbert.) And it's one thing to arrive at the Linc in the snow, another to drive home several beers later.

Wusses is quickly becoming a favorite Rendellian epithet. In October, he said of Democratic candidates, "We're a bunch of wusses," adding: "If we're going to lose, let's go down fighting for the things we believe in." He also charged that the Republican Party was "slowly but surely being taken over by a bunch of wackos."

Next: "Wusses and Wackos" on Fight Back With Big Ed.

Rendell wasn't done after criticizing the country for wimpitude. The diatribe quickly snowballed into a sweeping, and physically challenging, generalization about 1.3 billion people.

"If this was in China, do you think the Chinese would have called off the game?" he said. "People would have been marching down to the stadium, they would have walked, and they would have been doing calculus on the way down." Like some math marching band?

Snow, football, and Rendell go way back, a combo that might be deemed the "perfect storm" of producing questionable behavior.

You may recall the infamous 1989 "Snow Bowl" game between the Eagles and Cowboys, when Rendell bet $20 that some drunken fans couldn't throw a snowball and hit the Vet's turf. Rendell, the city's former D.A. and yet to be its mayor, initially denied to The Inquirer's Steve Lopez that he had made the bet. His friend Cliff Haines wasn't honest with Lopez, either. As Rendell promised: "I'm sure he'll lie for me. He's the finest lawyer in Philadelphia. No way you'll get him to tell you the truth." (In the small-world department, Haines is now attorney for embattled former Philadelphia Housing Authority chief Carl Greene.)

In a week and a day, Rendell cedes control to Tom Corbett. As state attorney general, candidate, and governor-elect, Corbett has been a man of few public or memorable words. After his egregious radio statement last summer that the unemployed, rather than looking for work, are "just going to sit there" until their checks run out, Corbett went into lockdown.

For most of his career, and certainly since the controversy, Corbett's comments have been rare, scripted, and dull. On election night, he claimed that New Jersey's verbose and combative Chris Christie is his "role model."

Hah! Corbett can only dream of Christie's Jimmy Fallon appearances and weekly eruptions on YouTube.

Sigh. Only eight more days of the Gaffinator, who has given us so much to write about.

Sure, he may berate us as simpletons and idiots, but I, for one, am going to miss Rendell as governor something fierce.


Contact columnist Karen Heller at 215-854-2586 or kheller@phillynews.com.

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