The San Francisco Chronicle’s Carla Marinucci had a nice profile recently on Leon Panetta, a native Californian and statesman par excellence.
I’ve always thought of Panetta, who recently retired from a long and distinguished career, as someone who always viewed his responsibilities the way all elected officials should: as public servants. From congressman and White House chief of staff to director of the OMB or CIA, here is a man who has always seemed to act and speak with a profound respect for our nation and its democratic institutions. Pragmatism over ideology. Policy over politics. Respect over vitriol. Duty over personal aggrandizement.
What really jumped off the page of Marinucci’s piece was Panetta’s concern over extreme partisanship and how it poses one our country’s most serious threats to national security. This, remember, is coming from a guy who was in charge of the CIA and Department of Defense. He knows a little bit about what the United States is up against. When he says one of our greatest dangers is ourselves, that bears attention.
If you wonder why we need more people like Panetta in government, check out this passage from the Chronicle piece:
“The avuncular Panetta gets deadly serious when he talks about what he believes is one of the greatest dangers to America’s future – political partisanship that, he said, has never been more divisive or discouraging.
Washington “has really become dysfunctional,” said Panetta, who began his political career as a Republican, “and when that happens, in many ways that becomes a greater national security threat than almost anything else.”
“I’m sensing that – for whatever reason – we’re in a testing period now as to whether some of this can change,” he said. “Unfortunately, I think this is a time when change is going to happen – not from the top down – but from the bottom up.”
His mission now, Panetta said, is “to get young people who are not trapped by partisanship to recognize that things can be different – if they’re willing to take the risk involved with getting elected to public office.”
He’s encouraged, he said, because the new crop of students who hope to become public servants is less attached to “strong ideological edge” of their parents’ generation.
“They’re much more pragmatic; they’re much more willing to see if problems can be solved,” he said. “I don’t see them as being tied to the kind of party label as you see playing out in Washington – and in Sacramento for that matter.”
Let’s hope Panetta is as successful with this mission as he was throughout his career. We need more leaders like him.