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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Dennis Roddy's words in Corbett's mouth?

Posted by on Tue, Mar 8, 2011 at 2:38 PM

In the near future, you'll be hearing lots of analysis about what Tom Corbett's budget address means for Pennsylvania. Some of it may be on this very blog (though I've got a bunch of local politics stuff in the pipeline first).

But while listening to Corbett's speech, I confess that one of the first questions I had was fairly trivial: How much of a hand did Dennis Roddy have in this?

Roddy, you may recall, recently left the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to do communications for Corbett. He was a little hazy on the job description, though speech writing was clearly going to be part of his duties. 

I haven't checked with Roddy on this yet -- and I have a strong feeling he won't be able to tell me anyway. But there's at least one part of this speech that bears his fingerprints: the part where Corbett invokes poet William Wordsworth. 

From the transcript of Corbett's speech:

Two hundred years ago a group of English poets talked of building a utopian community along the banks of the Susquehanna. It was their dream to come to Penn's Woods and flourish. They never made it here. Maybe they heard about our property taxes.

One of their friends was the poet William Wordsworth. He identified the dangers of a culture of spending. He wrote:

Getting and spending

We lay waste our powers

Note the subtlety there. It's not that we use up our powers. We lay them waste. We lose them outright. Getting and spending we lose track of our real purpose.

What makes me so sure that Dennis Roddy had a hand here? First off, who the hell else would invoke an English pre-Romantic poet in a discussion of fiscal policy? 

But more than that -- I happen to know that when Brian O'Neill wrote this column about Wordsworth's take on Pennsylvania fiscal misadventures, Roddy e-mailed him a scholarly note defending the poet.

O'Neill called the poem "To the Pennsylvanians" one of "the worst things Wordsworth ever wrote, and I'm including his grocery lists." Roddy, though, argued that Wordsworth's grievances were rooted in his belief that fiscal problems symbolized a deeper, more spiritual malaise. 

"Everyone else here was like, 'How did you even think of Wordsworth?'" O'Neill told me in an interview concerning Roddy's departure.  "Dennis was like,'I think you missed the point of his work.' He had very strong opinions about it." 

And he's obviously been sharing them with our governor. Let's just hope that we'll still be teaching Wordsworth after Corbett's guts education cuts take effect.

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