In an election season rife with the constant bloviating and castigating of desperate presidential candidates, an administration running out of steam and a Congress on tilt, the wisdom of Leon Panetta can be heard above the fray.
▪ “If the United States doesn’t lead, nobody else will.”
▪ “Dreams are just dreams unless you are willing to work for it, sacrifice and fight.”
▪ “Too often today we govern by crisis. It’s easy to blame the crisis. You can’t govern that way. You lose the trust of the American people. And in a democracy, trust is everything.”
▪ “I worry about whether our young people are committed to giving something back to this country. In our democracy it is very important for people to give something back to the nation.”
▪ “I think Washington is probably in its worst shape in the 50 years I have been involved. It’s high in gridlock and partisanship. It seems unable to deal with the issues that are important to this country.”
▪ “The hope is to try to get young people running for office and participating in our system. This is not going to change from the top down. It’s probably going to have to change from the bottom up.”
These are the words of 77-year-old Leon Panetta, after a 50-year career in public service that includes time served in the the Army, and 16 years in Congress, where he served as chairman of the Budget Committee. Then he served in two presidential administrations: as director of the Office of Management and Budget and as chief of staff to Bill Clinton; and as CIA director and secretary of defense to Barack Obama.
He was in Boise on Monday for some well-deserved recognition: to receive the Frank and Bethine Church Award for Public Service. If you were there you did not encounter a man in retirement. You saw Leon Panetta just hitting his stride.
For 18 years he and his beloved wife, Sylvia, have run the Panetta Institute For Public Policy in Monterey, Calif. I think it’s safe to call the Panettas evangelists for public service. For governing.
They send a large number of students to Washington as interns. They teach them about leadership.
“We try to give these students a chance to understand the kind of politics that we’re dealing with today and to understand that it doesn’t have to be this way” said Panetta. “They don’t have to be trapped — whether they are Republicans or Democrats — by the politics of gridlock. They can make that system work. It’s not easy. It takes dialogue, communications, a willingness to find compromise and consensus.
“The fact that I was there at a time in Washington where we were doing this — that tells me that we can get there again.”