Friday, June 15, 2012

Seriously, Ed Rendell?

Ed Rendell:  Lover of history?
In Wednesday's Philadelphia Inquirer, former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell had an op-ed about the new Museum of the American Revolution which will be open in 2015 in Philadelphia.  (You may recall our recent post on the museum).

Rendell praises the museum and hopes that its opening will "show us what we can be by showing us what we used to be."  Here is a taste:

The men who lived and governed in those times from the Declaration of Independence, through the long war, to the adoption of the Constitution were, indeed, legendary but they were not always unified and they were hardly flawless. Some of the very best did not want to separate from what was then the most-powerful nation on earth. Some had blind spots that allowed slavery to coexist with the notion that all men are created equal. Few thought of women's rights or the kind of equality we demand for all today.

Yet they remained fiercely determined to create a place that would be sustained through an idea, rather than through force, and to put aside these differences to make it work. And it has been sustained. 

The ideal and its supporting voices echo against oppression throughout the world to this day. When the museum of the American Revolution opens its doors ,we will easily be inspired by those people and what they built.

OK--let me get this straight.  Rendell wants us to learn from the past in order to become better citizens in the present.  I couldn't agree more.  Indeed, as I have argued multiple times here and elsewhere, the study of history teaches the kinds of virtues necessary to living in a democratic-republic.


But to hear this history lesson coming from Ed Rendell is more than ironic.  Have we forgotten that it was Ed Rendell who did more to damage the study of history in the state of Pennsylvania than any governor in recent years?  Fortunately, we have documented many of his savage cuts to historical institutions.  Let's review:

On February 9, 2010, I blogged about an op-ed piece in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette urging western Pennsylvanians to protest Rendell's budget cuts.  I also noted that students from Geneva College in Beaver Falls were collecting signatures for a petition protesting his assault on Pennsylvania history.

On February 16, 2010, I noted that Rendell would be cutting 50 of the current 57 staff positions at the PA State Library.

On February 24, 2010, I did another blog post on the cuts.

On March 5, 2010, I wrote an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Rendell's budget cuts.

On March 30, 2010, I was a guest on WITF Smart Talk (with then Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission director Barbara Franco) discussing the cuts.

And now Rendell is extolling the virtues of history and historical sites?

Please stop it!


1 comment:

Yoni Appelbaum said...

You inspired me, John, to flip open my copy of 'A Prayer for the City,' to the passage explaining where Rendell turned when he realized that industry was gone for good:
"He believed in tourism not necessarily because it was the best answer but because it was quite literally the only one, and he envisioned a quadrangular nexus — the convention center; a Disneyesque repackaging of the city's history with battle reenactments and costumed Franklins, Washingtons, and Jeffersons helpfully giving tourists directions; the Avenue of the Arts along Broad Street, with its orchestra and its concert and theater halls; and riverboat gambling."

The new Museum of the American Revolution is, for Rendell, the culmination of a two-decade old vision for the revitalization of Philadelphia as an entertainment destination. It's a privately funded initiative intended to push large crowds through its doors every day, with substantial spill-over effects for the local economy. That's the kind of history that Rendell can get behind. State-supported archives, libraries, and battlefields? That, as you note, is another story entirely.