Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, an Institute of Politics visiting fellow, is on campus this week to urge students to consider careers in public service.
Rendell has held various political positions over the past three decades, serving as district attorney of Philadelphia, mayor of Philadelphia, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and chairman of the Democratic Governor’s Association, in addition to his two terms as governor.
Rendell acknowledged today’s terse political climate, citing the younger generation’s important role in effecting social change.
“I think my generation has become stuck in this quagmire,” Rendell said. “And the only hope is if this generation now starts making change through the ballot box by organizing and working on campaigns.”
Frustrations have grown over government gridlock between Democrats and Republicans in Congress since the 2010 election, and approval ratings are at an all time low. Those on the left argue that President Obama has not been heavy-handed enough in settling legislative quarrels.
Rendell, an Obama supporter, acknowledged a failure in the President’s messaging in the years since his election. But he noted an important shift in Obama’s rhetoric over the last few months.
“The tone changed from the speech he made when he introduced the Jobs Bill,” Rendell said. “He was strong, he was aggressive [in that speech]. And he made the case to the American people that he failed to do with the stimulus and with healthcare reform.”
Rendell also said that the President has achieved several considerable legislative wins in the last few years, suggesting that frustrations on the left may be shortsighted.
“He has extended healthcare to 31 million Americans. No one else has been able to do that. He made education loans more affordable. He did credit card reform,” Rendell said.
But he also said he understands the central complaints of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which has spread to numerous cities across the country.
“[The protesters] have a salient point, and that is that the gap between the rich and poor, between the rich and the middle class, has exploded in the past decade or decade and a half,” Rendell said.
He added that the income disparity is antithetical to the United States’ values. But even as he urged the protesters to move forward with their initiatives, he said he is wary of their tactics.
“I’d love to go down and say, ‘We understand your point, and it’s a good one. But other than that, why are you staying here? What do you have to gain?’”
Rendell said that those occupying Wall Street should instead direct their energy to campaigning and reforming government.
“Revolutions don’t happen that way here. Change happens in this country through the ballot box,” Rendell said.
He said he is visiting Harvard as an IOP fellow to encourage students to participate in the political process.
“The reason I’m here is to get smart, idealistic, young people to get involved in government in order to bring about the changes we need,” Rendell said.
—Staff writer Jose A. DelReal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.