Mr. Pennsylvania. A man whose name is practically synonymous with "business as usual." A political insider and deal maker, whose real talents take place behind closed doors, when he's not making sure his friends and allies get a cut. A guy who once found himself in the middle of some morally hard-to-defend activity, and looked the other way.
Such a person at the helm would be the last thing that the embattled Penn State campus needs right now after years of repeatedly earning its Ph.D. in cover-ups and obfuscations in things as small as everyday disciplinary matters and as large as -- we now know -- a once-trusted university leader sexually abusing young boys in plain sight. The next president of Penn State -- with incumbent Graham Spanier's hold on the job looking about as bright as Donovan McNabb's future in the NFL -- can't be another deal maker. He or she needs to be, pardon my language, a total ass-kicker, someone who will cast the money changers out of this former temple of college football.
Tom Ridge, the former governor of the Keystone State, was floated as a pick in news reports earlier today. He would be the worst person you could think of to clean up the mess at Penn State, and so would anyone else who fits his profile.
Ridge is the guy most recently who's been pocketing $75,000 a month to tell you that the fracking goldrush pillaging its way across rural Pennylvania is good for your environment, and pay no attention to that man lighting his tap water on fire. Then he went on Stephen Colbert to insist that he's not a lobbyist, a verbal technicality perhaps -- not unlike the verbal technicalities that the current Penn State higher-ups use to defend their unconscionable failure to act.
I write this even though I'm not a Tom Ridge hater. He's a personable enough guy, with a practical and centrist approach to things, and there's a highly admirable Horatio Alger quality to his rise from blue-collar Erie through Harvard and onto Vietnam and then the highest levels of politics.
But he's been around for a long, long time now, long enough to epitomize that lobbying-governmental complex that has enriched a small elite class and turned off the other 99 percent of us. Ever since leaving his gig at the first-ever Secretary of Homeland Security, his rush to cash inas a consultant and board member has been more than a little unseemly, and creates situations like the time he appeared on MSNBC to talk up nuclear power without disclosing he was on the payroll of nuke-heavy Exelon.
When someone reaches the highest level of their profession, there is inevitably a moral crossroads. At Penn State, that happened in 2002 when an underling to football legend Joe Paterno reported lewd sexual misconduct by Paterno's former top assistant Jerry Sandusky; Paterno barely followed the letter of the law by telling a higher-up -- and nothing more -- and those higher-ups allegedly then broke the law by doing nothing.
In 2004, homeland security chief Ridge came to the realization that higher-ups in the White House were trying to manipulate the terror threat level, presumably to boost President Bush's re-election. And Tom Ridge said nothing -- at the time. He only voiced his suspicions years later. When he was writing a book. For money.
So who should become Penn State's next president...and savior? I don't know, and the Penn State trustees would be wrong to leap quickly to any conclusion. Instead they should scour the land, because the next president should be someone from outside of Pennsylvania and its deeply rooted culture of corruption, someone who's made his or her mark as a defender of our children and not as an exploiter of them, and as someone who'll smash false idols, not shield them.
The latest word I'm hearing our of "Happy Valley" is that Ridge is probably not the guy. I hope that's right. PSU doesn't need a politiician. It doesn't need Tom Ridge.