A Man of Low Degree

December 28, 2010

Men of low degree are but a breath . . .  set not your heart on them.
              — Psalm 62:9-10


Longtime readers of this space, and those who know me well, already know that I despise Pennsylvania’s lame duck Governor, Ed Rendell, who will leave office in 20 days (but who’s counting?). If you’re new here, or if you need to be reminded, the explanation is here. Briefly, it involves a story Rendell likes to have told about himself about how he inflicted pain and embarrassment on a disabled professor when he was an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania. As I said then of Rendell’s hijinx, “This is not some tough teenager whose anger at his forced school attendance causes him to act out. This is a young man at one of the finest private universities in the country, preparing to be a leader.”

Despite his lame duck status, Governor Rendell made news again this week. Commenting on the cancelling of Sunday’s football game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Minnesota Vikings because of concerns about public safety in a snowstorm that made field conditions less than ideal and travel conditions worse, Rendell declared, “We’ve become a nation of wusses. The Chinese are kicking our butt in everything. . . . If this was in China do you think the Chinese would have called off the game? People would have been marching down to the stadium, they would have walked and they would have been doing calculus on the way down.”

As a matter of fact, the Chinese aren’t “kicking our butt,” nor anybody else’s, in football. (Note: the sport referred to here is soccer, not the football played by the NFL in the United States. The Chinese are not “kicking our butt,” nor anyone else’s, in that, either.)  The only time they qualified for World Cup competition was in 2002. In tournament play they lost all their games and failed to score a single goal. It is unclear what Rendell intends to imply about the intellectual or physical prowess of Americans in his suggestion that the Chinese would have been “doing calculus” as they walked to the game.

In an article in today’s Harrisburg Patriot, columnist Tom Flynn suggests that the governor’s sanguine confidence in ease of travel to the stadium is the belief of someone too accustomed to being chauffeured everywhere he goes. (Rendell’s state-trooper-driven car was clocked at over 100 mph nine times in 2004. Rendell was unapologetic.) Flynn notes that parking near the stadium is problematic under the best of conditions, and that the last train out of the city on Sundays leaves too early to allow suburban fans, epecially those in Delaware and New Jersey, who might take public transportation, to see more than half of the third quarter.

In supporting his opinion that Americans have become “wusses” (whatever that means — you’d think a graduate of an Ivy League university could come up better word than one coined by Cameron Crowe for Fast Times at Ridgemont High), Rendell cited other NFL games that have been played in severe conditions.

He did not mention the Philadelphia-Dallas game on December 10, 1989, the Bounty Bowl II, which the Eagles won but which was marred by bad behavior on the part of Eagles fans, officials, and broadcasters. In a column published in The Philadelphia Inquirer on Christmas Eve that year, Steve Lopez revealed that Ed Rendell, then between political gigs as a Philadelphia factotum, offered an inebriated fan $20 to throw a snowball onto the field. He bet the fan that he couldn’t hit the field from their prime seats at the 600 level. The fan landed the missile at the feet of a referee who had earlier been hit in the head with a snowball. Rendell pulled out his wallet and paid up.

This is not an apocryphal story told by unreliable witnesses hostile to Ed Rendell. It was told by Rendell himself to Steve Lopez (after initially denying it). Rendell tried to excuse the act by saying he thought if the drunken fan got $20 he might stop throwing snowballs, but I’m not buying it.

I think it’s more proof of the low degree of his character.

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