The Leon Panetta I knew

Written by Reg Henry on .

Snobs come in many forms, all of them obnoxious, but today we were introduced to a new type - intelligence snobs. This group has its collective nose in the air because Barack Obama has selected Leon Panetta to be the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency. He is many things - a former congressman and chief of staff for Bill Clinton - but he is not one of them. He is not a spook.

To which I say, so what? It may be an advantage for a CIA chief to have had a career in the military or intelligence gathering but it is not as if Panetta knows nothing about that world. As Clinton's chief of staff, he would have heard intelligence briefings all the time.

Panetta has other qualities that trump the primary objection to his nomination. He is smart. He has principles. He is wise. He is hard-working and gets along with people no matter what their political affiliations. He knows the federal bureaucracy. He has a good sense of humor.

I learned all this first-hand. When I was the editor of The Monterey County Herald from 1988 to 1993, Leon Panetta was the local congressman. Although that part of California has plenty of serious conservatives, he remained popular with all his constituents. His popularity owed a lot to the attributes I previously described.

From my own pleasant dealings with him in the past, I say Leon Panetta does represent Obama's change we can believe in - even if the intelligence snobs don't yet believe it. But, hey, they are the same folks who thought Saddam had nuclear weapons.


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