Media Gave Obama Free Pass in 2008, says Obama surrogate Ed Rendell

June 21, 2012

A top Obama surrogate said the president will not have to worry about a swooning media or crowds overcome by fainting spells in 2012.

"The media and the population saw him as this transformative figure [in 2008]; he was the first serious black candidate, a new, young, promising figure," said former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell. "People have sobered to that; the newness has faded and people now see him as another practical politician."

Rendell is known for being blunt, a theme he touches on in his new book, A Nation of Wusses, and a trait that has gotten him in hot water on the campaign trail.

In April, Rendell joined a chorus of disgruntled Democrats, including Newark Mayor Cory Booker and former President Bill Clinton, who dissented from the Obama campaign’s attacks on Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s record as a venture capitalist.

He stood by that position in an interview with the Washington Free Beacon.

"All we said was that the attacks on Bain were over the top and a few Democrats jumped on us for that," he said. "But to be a good surrogate you need to be reasonable; the independents are not going to believe you’re credible if you try to just say, ‘My guy is an angel; that guy’s the devil.’"

Rendell believes the media gave Obama a free pass in 2008, creating an environment in which the newly elected president received the Nobel Peace Prize nine months into his tenure—"a little ridiculous," according to Rendell.

"Reporters violated the rule of neutrality," he writes in the book.

But Obama continues to keep the press at a distance. Obama has granted many one-on-one interviews for major announcements, his most recent being the sit-down with Robin Roberts to discuss gay marriage. However, he has held only two news conferences in the past six months.

"If I were him, I’d do more press conferences—it’s the only vehicle for communicating with the citizens you represent, the citizens who elected you; it’s your obligation to answer questions from the press," Rendell said.

Rendell, who served as chairman of the Democratic National Committee during Al Gore’s 2000 campaign, has been a vocal champion for Obama since he took office amid the Great Recession. But he is not afraid to sling a few arrows Obama’s way.

"All things considered, I’d give him a B-plus; he’s done a solid job managing the toughest first term I’ve seen since I started participating in elective politics in 1968," Rendell said.

The high grade is not assigned without reservations. Rendell, a strong advocate for higher taxes and spending cuts, said Obama’s failure to implement the Simpson-Bowles commission recommendations because they raised taxes across the board, rather than on the rich alone, hurt his momentum to control the economy.

"The vast majority of our elected officials are so scared of losing their jobs that they don’t think ordinary citizens can handle the truth; they can, you just have to be honest," said Rendell, who has been out of office since January 2011. "The Democrats are telling seniors, who are a good voting bloc, that there does not have to be Medicare reform. Of course there does, it was created when people were living to 65, not their 80s."

Rendell is also concerned about the lack of a jobs bill—which he blames on Republicans—as well as the "fiscal cliff" of tax increases and $500 billion in defense cuts that will kick in on January 1, 2013—which he blames on Obama for not trying to work with the GOP.

"We have four months to go, and it’s almost too late," he said. "When the president put his jobs bill together he should have sat down with Republicans and tried to get them to adopt pieces of the plan that they agreed on; that didn’t happen."

Rendell has been active in the 2012 election cycle. On Saturday he forced Mitt Romney to abort a campaign stop at a WaWa by showing up early with protesters. He pledged to continue helping Obama without shying away from his direct approach.

"You have about 40 percent of people who know who they’re going to vote for; it’s the 20 percent in the middle that will make the difference; that’s who I speak to [as a surrogate]," he said.

Rendell is using the media as part of that strategy, working as an MSNBC contributor, as well as by pushing the book, the title of which recalls a gaffe that came to define Sen. John McCain’s doomed 2008 run against Obama.

In July 2008, a McCain economic adviser, former Texas Sen. Phil Gramm, accused politicians of defeatism.

"We have sort of become a nation of whiners, you just hear this constant whining, complaining about a loss of competitiveness, America in decline," he said.

Although Gramm defended the remarks as a commentary about the political class, rather than the struggling public, he resigned 8 days later.

Rendell defended his book on the same grounds. When asked why his title has not caused a similar uproar, he laughed.

"I’m not afraid to be honest; there are some wusses out there," he said. "Ordinary citizens aren’t going to hold it against you when you tell the truth."