Although it's too late for the likes of Bill, Bob and Newt, future politicians should be better able to avoid the pitfalls of politics with the founding of the Leon and Sylvia Panetta Institute For Public Policy at CSU Monterey Bay.
Beginning in January, Leon Panetta will personally teach a course on politics, government and policymaking that will draw on Panetta's extensive personal career in Washington, from his tenure as a U.S. Congressman to his work in the White House as Bill Clinton's Chief of Staff.
The Institute's overall mission is characterized in a recent press release as a "non-partisan, not-for-profit educational organization with the goal of inspiring young people to lives of public service and preparing them for the challenges of the next century." The Institute plans to coordinate a variety of public service efforts in the Monterey Bay area, including the already established Leon Panetta Lecture Series.
"The course will offer perspectives on politics in a series of areas that roughly cover my own career," Panetta says of the 15-week course. "How to run for office, campaigning, money and everything else. I'll talk about what it's like to be a member of Congress, the executive branch and White House operations, the budget process, press relations, and federal/state relations.
"The whole point of what I'm trying to do is provide the human aspect in these areas," adds Panetta.
"Over the last few weeks we've seen the 'human' side of democracy," Panetta adds with weary bemusement. "I hope to tell students who get the textbooks and watch TV that frankly what they don't see is the human side--the inter-relationships between people and the way decisions are made."
According to Panetta, the course will be limited to a maximum of 50 students, but will be open to any students on campus. Guest lecturers from the entire political spectrum will be invited to share their experiences and perspectives on politics and government with students.
"I hope to bring guest lecturers including former members from the administration and right now I'm looking at some of my former colleagues from the Hill, like Lee Hamilton and Nick Fasio," says Panetta.
Start-up costs for the Institute, including the donation of a building on campus, are being provided by CSU. Panetta indicated the Institute plans to establish a permanent endowment from between $5 and $10 million from private individuals, foundations and nonprofits with the hope of eventually becoming wholly independent from CSU's budget.
Panetta's academic relationship with CSUMB was inaugurated in January 1997 with the founding of the Leon Panetta Lecture Series, which looked at various branches in the federal government. Congressmen John Kasich and Richard Gephardt delivered the first lecture in the series, with subsequent lectures being delivered by Jack Kemp, Henry Cisneros, US Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, and former White House Chief of Staff James A. Baker III.
Given the current debacle in contemporary political life in this country, Panetta admits the timing of the Institute is propitious.
"One of the reasons for the Institute is what's happening [in politics]," admits Panetta. "It's discouraging a lot of good people with the combination of the attack mentality plus all the money that has to be raised to get into politics. The incentive is not to get involved in the process, and that is the danger. We need to be able to attract good people and create a sense of hope that people can do better."
Given the current cesspool that passes for government, what is Panetta's prognosis for the future of politics? From Panetta's perspective, one possible outcome might be the rise in influence of third party candidates, as witnessed by Jesse Ventura's election as governor of Minnesota.
"I gave some speeches in Minnesota and people were asking me about Jesse Ventura," says Panetta. "I said I did not think it was a fluke, that people were tired of hearing the same kind of messages from both [political parties]. People want honest answers, and Ventura gave that. Unless the parties learn to move away from consultants and poll-based [decision-making] to something more real, things will open up to other alternatives."