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Leon Panetta Has Tips for Obama

pic Leon Panetta official portraitPresident Barack Obama could learn a thing or two about making political deals in order to get what he wants in Washington D.C., according to Leon Panetta, who served as CIA director and later as Secretary of Defense under the current commander in chief.

Panetta says, when Obama first came into office under a wave of support, the president thought he would be able to pass reform without scratching the backs of congressional republicans he viewed as irascible.

“His hope was that people would embrace logic,” Panetta, a former congressperson for the Monterey Bay, said at a talk Monday, Nov. 10. “When he found that he was running into barriers, he would get angered, and frustrated, and give up.”

Panetta, who is promoting his memoir, “Worthy Fights,” said Obama has surrendered on a number of important issues this past year, giving up on immigration reform, climate change, and a fair budget. “That cannot happen, and you can’t allow it to happen. You’ve got to fight,” Panetta said at the Bookshop Santa Cruz event.

This isn’t to say, Panetta elaborated, that this stuff is easy. He conceded that such conversations are “tough” and that “We’ve got a higher percentage of nuts” in Congress now than in years past.

But Panetta was proud, during his time in the U.S. House of Representatives, of his ability to pass controversial legislation—going vote by vote in order to earn support. Sometimes Panetta and other lawmakers would bury a change they wanted in unrelated piece of legislation. Other times, they would give opponents perks in their own districts.

Panetta contrasted Obama with Clinton, who he said “loved politics.” Sometimes Clinton would even tell people how to campaign in their local elections. “He would have people come into his office, and he would know more about their district than they did,” Panetta said.

That love of politics, Panetta said, made Clinton effective. He was skilled at making deals and giving opponents what they wanted in order to get reform he though was essential, Panetta explained.

Last night’s discussion, held with Panetta’s co-author, Jim Newton, at the Peace United Church, was not just about the differences between Clinton and Obama. Panetta discussed his childhood, foreign policy, and his time in the Nixon administration. The talk drew a crowd of protesters outside upset over Panetta’s recent comments about a 30-year-war against terrorists in the Middle East and Africa.

Inside the church, the crowd laughed and clapped repeatedly at Panetta’s answers. Panetta has become disillusioned with current state of congress, although he trusts Americans to elect the right representatives. He encouraged young people to pursue lives of public service.

He also said that after the Sept. 11 attacks of 2001, he and other leaders have done whatever they can to keep Americans safe. “The toughest decisions I ever had to make were the ones about life and death. At the same time, I recognize there are those terrorists who are evil,” he said.

At one point after one of Panetta’s answers about foreign policy, a team of protesters stood up with a banner that read “Stand for Peace” and walked out.

Panetta seemed to feel, though, that there are limits to acceptable anti-terrorism efforts. Panetta, like President Obama, mentioned he supports closing the prison Guantanmo Bay.

“The only way it’s going to work is if he cuts a deal,” Panetta said, of Obama. “He can’t do it by executive order, because that would violate current law.”

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