Wednesday, October 1, 2014
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The trouble with Tom

A philly.com Q&A shows what we've long suspected: Tom Corbett isn't a politician. But it also shows his wife, Susan, is.

The trouble with Tom

Gov. Corbett  (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Gov. Corbett (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Okay, we all know Tom Corbett has a penchant for drawing the attention of social media then regular media, allowing detractors, Democrats and now potential election opponents to suggest things he says show insensitivity to women, the unemployed and, most recently, Latinos.

Whether you think these things are taken out of context, blown out of proportion or represent attitudes less than admirable in one holding high office, you pretty much have to agree they demonstrate a lack of political skill.

And that's the trouble with Tom.

He is not a good politician, which is to say he simply doesn't think about political consequences. This can be a good thing in governing. So long as you're not all that interested in governing for long.

Corbett is a prosecutor, with a prosecutor's mind, and prosecutors don't need to consider stuff such as political impact in order to do their jobs and win their cases.

All who know him, myself included, know him to be a good and decent man -- and a bad politician.

The first time I interviewed him, in 1995, was after he was picked by Tom Ridge to fill out the term of jailed attorney general Ernie Preate. Corbett had an old-school metal lunchbox in his office: "Tom Corbett: Space Cadet," a 1950's TV, radio and comic book character.

I knew then this guy didn't think politically. What pol associates himself or herself with a space cadet?

A more recent example can be found in the Q&A posted on philly.com with Corbett and First Lady Susan Corbett. In it there are instances in which the Guv shows his non-political bent, and his wife shows she's a better pol than he is.

For example, asked how "most people" describe you, Corbett answered "honest" and his wife answered "warm and accessible." Her answer is terrific for any person, especially a First Lady. His, even if true (which polling suggests might not be the case), comes across as self-indulgent wishful thinking.

Asked for his "biggest regret," he says, "my parents not living to see me become governor." This makes it seem it's all about him. Her answer? "No regrets -- it's a waste of time." Words to live by, no matter who you are.

Favorite movie? He picks three: The Godfather, Animal House and Caddyshack. Really? Animal House? Caddyshack? What are you, 18? She picks Shakespeare in Love, a wonderful film that won seven Academy Awards. (Godfather won three) So he's playing to people who liked a guy named Bluto sticking pencils up his nose. She's playing to people who admire history's most gifted writer.

TV stuff? He says Vikings on the History Channel. Oh, yeah, that'll connect with people. She says Downtown Abbey, a clear pitch to the suburban womens' vote.

Gulity pleasure? He picks Five Guys cheesburgers. Not bad. But she says Asher's chocolate pretzels. Brilliant! Asher's is owned by national GOP committeeman Bob Asher, a supporter and major fundraiser.

So you tell me: who's got better political instincts?

And keep in mind this isn't something learned. It's innate. Rendell has it. Christie has it. Susan Corbett has it. But her husband doesn't. And that's the trouble with Tom.

John Baer Daily News Political Columnist
About this blog
John Baer has been covering politics and government for the Daily News since 1987. The National Journal in 2002 called Baer one of the country's top 10 political journalists outside Washington, saying Baer has, "the ability to take the skin off a politician without making it hurt too much." E-mail John at baerj@phillynews.com.

John is the author of the book "On The Front Lines of Pennsylvania Politics: Twenty-Five Years of Keystone Reporting" (The History Press, 2012). Reach John at baerj@phillynews.com.

John Baer Daily News Political Columnist
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