Thanks, thanks and more thanks to Leon Panetta, a former congressman, secretary of defense, budget director,White House chief of staff and head of three different agencies, including the CIA — someone, in short, who knows his way around Washington. He has made it clear the current political stalemate there is at least partly traceable to the leadership shortcomings of President Barack Obama. The observation matters.
It matters because Panetta has credibility and because a contrary view is proving a threat to fundamental American principles. That contrary view is that it’s House Republicans who are solely at fault for absolutely refusing to compromise on much of anything. Panetta, who worked with Obama when he was heading up defense and the CIA, hardly lets the House off the hook, but sees Obama as isolated, overly professorial and missing in action.
“My experience in Washington is that logic alone doesn’t work,” he said in an interview about his book, “Worthy Fights,” which has stirred debate. “Once you lay out a position, you are going to roll up your sleeves and you have to fight to get it done. This is key in Washington. In order for presidents to succeed, they cannot just, when they run into problems, step back and give up.”
It seemed to him, he said, that the president had done just that on budgetary, immigration, infrastructure and other issues. Without nearly as close-up a view, others have noticed the same thing. Obama has seldom bothered to get in the ring and tussle. To be sure, he has given lots of provocative speeches at fundraisers, but that can be the opposite of getting the other side to go along with something. Panetta said he has seen better presidents, such as the one he served as chief of staff, Bill Clinton.
What’s most worrisome about Obama is what he does when Congress doesn’t give him what he has not himself worked to get. He cheats. He rewrites laws through a technique — issuing executive orders — that bypasses Congress and the Constitution. His defenders say other presidents have issued more, only there is a difference. Most mainly did it on relatively small matters the power was meant to address rather than on very large matters it was not meant to address.
Yes, there are major issues that need addressing — a potentially ruinous debt, as an example of one the liberals do not worry much about — but there are other means of coping with stalemate. How about leadership by the president and more effort by a Senate that passes far fewer bills than the House. Just maybe Panetta and other critics have helped wake up Obama, maybe the president will find ways to get the House to compromise and maybe the upcoming midterm election will revitalize the Senate.
Panetta, who has primarily received attention for what he said in the book about Obama’s foreign policy errors, has been kicked hard by some who think it egregiously shameful to embarrass the president. What about serving the country? Whether they work or not, Panetta’s observations are aimed at that objective. Do these critics think that is such a bad thing to do?