Gov. 'Blunt Talk' Rendell (and other topics)

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So many topics, so little space:

Gov. Ed "Don't Call Me 'Fast Eddie' " Rendell met with the editorial board of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last week to talk about his latest budget. But before turning the meeting over to his number-crunchers, our voluble governor weighed in on the primary fight between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama and what the Illinois senator could expect from the good people of Pennsylvania at the polls:

"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," he said bluntly. Our eyes only met briefly, perhaps because the governor wanted to spare the only black guy in the room from feeling self-conscious for backing an obvious loser. "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 [note: Mr. Rendell did not call the brother "articulate"], charismatic, good-looking -- but white instead of black, instead of winning by 22 points, I would have won by 17 or so."

I know I have a habit of sometimes zoning out in these meetings, but it sounded to me like Mr. Rendell had unilaterally declared Pennsylvania to be Alabama circa 1963. Was he suggesting that Pennsylvanians are uniquely racist in ways that folks in the states Mr. Obama has won so far aren't? By the way, Mr. Obama won Alabama on Super Tuesday, thank you very much!

What accounts for Mr. Rendell's overweening confidence that, no matter what, he'll always find a way to overcome the odds by at least 17 points even in a racist commonwealth, but that Mr. Obama can't?

If Mr. Rendell, a Clinton backer, is right about Pennsylvania's racial attitudes, maybe we should get a new state slogan. How about: "You've got a friend with a pointy white hood in Pennsylvania"?

Several folks have asked why I haven't weighed in on Cyril Wecht's trial. There's a mother lode of material in it for even inattentive columnists like myself, or so the argument goes.

The reason I haven't is simple: I really, truly admire the former Allegheny County coroner. I can't bring myself to join the lynch mob.

I read the dispatches from the trial every day and shake my head like everyone else, but I still like the guy. He's the closest thing Pittsburgh politics has to a Renaissance Man. He could be a character straight out of Shakespeare. Sorry, I won't be hatin' on Cyril Wecht anytime soon, no matter how many corpses allegedly took a back seat to his personal errands.

I can't believe the ferocity with which even liberals are piling on MSNBC correspondent David Shuster for his admittedly sexist comment about Chelsea Clinton. Mr. Shuster deserves criticism for the ugly verb he used to describe the Clinton camp's creepy politicization of the 27-year-old former first daughter, but he doesn't deserve to be fired for it. That's certainly what some folks are calling for, even though he's been suspended.

Mr. Shuster is one of the straightest shooters on MSNBC and the only non-anchor there with the guts to confront liars and dissemblers thinking they can get a free ride on lowly cable news. I've been souring on MSNBC anyway. If they get rid of Mr. Shuster, as much as I love Keith Olbermann, I won't tune in anytime soon.

I'm really starting to resent the cashiers who draw lines across the face of the $20 and $50 bills I hand them at the register. I know it's going to happen to me at Target and Kmart, but I get really annoyed when it happens to me at Best Buy.

Recently, I bought some expensive computer equipment, but had the utter temerity to use cash instead of a credit card. The cashier dutifully ran a special marker across each bill. She took a run over the face of the $50 bill I gave her twice. There must be a more discreet way of saying, "look, nothing personal, I just don't trust you."

When she gave me my change, I was tempted to count it back to her one dollar at a time. After all of that, she had the nerve to say, "Have a good day."

Tony Norman can be reached at or 412-263-1631.


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