It wasn't until I nearly reached the office this afternoon that I learned about my new co-worker* here at Interstate General Media, the newest "voice" of Philly.com, Gov. Tom Corbett.
My smartphone service mysteriously died for about 20 minutes (maybe Sharyl Attkisson could look into this) and when it popped back on -- underneath the Schuylkill River, I think -- it was filled with messages from friends and colleagues, some who approached me before I even got off the elevator. Wasn't I the guy who -- taking note of Corbett's outlandish violations of the Pennsylvania Constitution on issues such as voting rights, funding non-public schools and despoiling the environment -- said it would be entirely appropriate (if unlikely) to impeach the first- and possibly last-term Republican?
What would I have to say about him writing for Philly.com, the holy ghost in our ungodly trinity of publications here at 400 N.Broad 801 Market?
Tom Corbett, columnist -- I have one word for you!
Or, bienvenida!...as apparently no one on your executive staff has ever said, ever.
Because here's the thing. I believe that we all have a right to speak (or write) in this country. Even a completely insane person, someone who believes that JFK was killed by a hologram or that a woman who doesn't want a government-mandated ultrasound can just close her eyes, is allowed to stand up on a soapbox on the Independence Mall (unless, apparently, that mind is altered...but I digress) and make their case.
Now, I've also argued that a newspaper column (even an online-only one) is a slightly different wrapper kettle of fish, because a major news organization provides a megaphone that a) reaches tens of thousands of people, still and b) it has only so many megaphones to give. You wouldn't give a column to someone who committed rape or murder, who advocated racism a la David Duke, or someone who enabled a major world power to commit acts of torture or other war crimes.
Which reminds me of a funny story -- once the Inquirer actually hired a torture-enabler, a lawyer named John Yoo, to write a column! That, yes, I opposed...vehemently. Let's look at new columnist Tom Corbett in that light. Has Corbett ever tortured anyone, other than his annual budget address? Well, let's see. His environmental policies have exposed many clusters of rural Pennsylvanians, their dogs and their livestock to toxic air and tainted wells, while allowing the big gas companies that contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars to his campaign to dump the wastewater all over the place. He still can't decide if it's a good idea to extend Medicaid coverage to a half million Pennsylvanians who right now have no health insurance and could die if they get sick for any extended period. Then there was that time he declared war...on food stamps!
Cruel and unusual...no doubt. But torture? Not in the strict technical sense of the word. So congratulations, Tom Corbett! You're in.
And let's face it, working** at a second job -- which a lot of your constituents have to do, if they can find one -- could give you a new perspective on the economy as you prepare to face the voters a second time. The "Voices of Philly.com" is one of the few business ventures in your Pennsylvania that is actually growing these days! I'm sure you would say that's because they don't require a drug test! (What a comedian.) Or maybe they're growing because -- and this is all too common, as 20-something Pennsylvanians could tell you -- the "Voices of Philly.com" don't get paid (nope, not even a Turkish robe). But at least you'll be bringing some much-needed diversity to the outfit. Hard to believe in this day and age, but you'll be their only Leslie Neilsen look-alike from Western Pa.
Now that you're here, I was a little disappointed that the reader comments were turned off for your first column. Because, if I can be serious for just a half-sentence here, this is your biggest failing (ponder that, for a moment) as governor -- your failure to engage in an honest give-and-take with the voters of Pennsylvania, not counting the shielding wing of a friendly conservative radio host. The OTHER voices of Philly.com -- the readers -- have much they want to ask you, and if I know the commenters on this website, I'm sure they want to do so in a polite and respectful fashion.
So now that Interstate General Media has given you this opportunity...use it. Don't stop at telling us that your favorite TV show is "Vikings on the History Channel" (that's a show?...never mind). Explain to the schoolchildren of Philadelphia why they have to march on City Hall to plead for music classes and textbooks while you're busy lobbying for a 30 percent corporate tax cut. Justify why jobs for boudin eaters from Louisiana are valued more by your administration than those of 20,000 teachers and school employees who devoted their lives to the kids of Pennsylvania only to be rewarded with a pink slip.
Engage your fellow citizens and learn something between now and your next stint as a lawyer for Waste Management. But there's one very important thing you need to know. To paraphrase Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, there is no right to yell "Penguins" in a crowded Philadelphia theater. Try pulling any of that Pittsburgh sports crap around here, and the public will run you out of town with tar and feathers.
Just a friendly warning, colleague.***
* If an unpaid blogger whose work may or may not be his own can be considered a "co-worker."
** See above.