Two Party Party
Panettas honor Senators Feinstein, Lieberman and Collins.
Thursday, November 3, 2005
Leon Panetta has long opined that the country’s leaders need to fight for the interests of their constituents, not fight with each other.
In a recent commentary, Panetta, a former Central Coast congressman, says he’s tired of listening to Democrats and Republicans blame each other for the nation’s broken political system. “We have to move beyond the gridlock,” he writes.
“I’m getting a little sick and tired of watching both political parties at the federal and state level constantly fighting each other like two punch-drunk boxers. Neither seems willing or able to do the job they were elected to do—govern in the best interest of all the people.”
In another recent missive, Panetta says the public would be better served by a debate over big ideas, rather than partisan bickering.
“If both parties simply look for cheap shots and short-term gains, then the nation is sure to lose out on the future,” he writes. “If, on the other hand, both political parties are willing to advance new ideas as to their vision about this nation in the 21st century, we will all benefit by this battle for ideas.”
This weekend, the Leon & Sylvia Panetta Institute for Public Policy will honor three US Senators who, Panetta says, do cross the aisle separating the parties to work on big-picture national issues—health care, national security, environmental policy and the like.
On Nov. 5, at the Institute’s sixth annual Jefferson-Lincoln Awards Dinner at the Inn at Spanish Bay, Panetta will present awards to senators Susan Collins, R-Maine, Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Joe Lieberman, D-Conn. The event, which is also a fundraiser for the Panetta Institute, will include a four-course dinner, with Central Coast wine and produce, prepared by local chefs.
“There are still a few individuals that represent bipartisan leadership,” Panetta says, “but that number is growing smaller.
“Joe Lieberman, Susan Collins and Dianne Feinstein have represented that commitment of trying to solve problems based on working together.”
Collins and Lieberman worked together on the Collins-Lieberman Intelligence Reform Bill, which was signed into law in January. The two were also part of a bipartisan group of senators who agreed to oppose attempts to filibuster President Bush’s judicial nominees except under “extraordinary circumstances.”
Feinstein has worked on bipartisan issues including security, crime prevention and environmental protection.
Panetta remembers working with her while Bill Clinton’s chief of staff. He points to several meetings he had with Feinstein about Clinton’s economic plan. “This was the centerpiece for the president’s economic strategy for the country, and she wanted to be convinced,” he says. “It was always clear to me that she was one of those individuals who didn’t just knee-jerk to partisan requests…she was always asking, ‘Is this the right thing to do?’”
Panetta calls the present political climate “partisan trench warfare.”
“In the 30 years I’ve been in and out of politics, I’ve never seen it this bad. Both parties have been in this kind of lock battle for power, and winning is more important than governing.
“We either govern our democracy through leadership or by crisis, and today, unfortunately, it’s more by crisis. All of this can change if the president and the leadership of the Congress would be willing to set aside these partisan differences.”
More cynical minds might believe that setting aside partisan differences has about as much chance of happening as, say, President Bush admitting his reasons for going to war were bogus.
“This is not something that is going to change very easily,” Panetta admits. “I think ultimately this might have to change from the bottom up, that the American people, through the power to vote, are going to have to elect people who do what they think is right. I think there are those in elected office who still do what they think is right. We’re a better nation when both parties work together.”
A LIMITED NUMBER OF SEATS REMAIN AT $250/INDIVIDUAL; $2,500/A HOST TABLE OF 10 SEATS; OR $5,000/A SPONSOR TABLE OF 10 SEATS. CALL 582-4200.