It’s hard to quantify anymore what it means to be a life-long public servant. We see so many people who breeze through their time in state legislatures and get elected to Congress on their good looks, then move along to governorships. We learn their middle names for the first time when they take a run at the presidency.
But for some old school public servants, American democracy is their life’s blood. That’s the case with one Leon Panetta, who began his humble career in the US Army and moved on to government as a natural fit, transitioning seamlessly from an assistant in the Department of Health and Welfare under Nixon to directing the Office of Civil Rights. Then Leon spent 16 years in the House of Representatives — not so long that anyone would accuse him of just staying to collect checks, but long enough to become the chair of the House Budget Committee, and to be ready when Bill Clinton appointed him as his budget director the day after he was inaugurated for the first time.
Panetta became Clinton’s chief of staff, then moved into even higher service — the intelligence community. He served as both the Director of the CIA and Secretary of Defense. The list of people who have been both is a short one The reason for all this background is so that you know when Leon Panetta says Donald Trump is conspiring with a foreign power, he’s not messing around, and he’s not wrong.
So after Trump challenged Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s system and find the “30,000 missing emails” that Republicans have never been able to shut up about, Leon Panetta had something to say:
“I find those kinds of statements to be totally outrageous because you’ve got now a presidential candidate who is in fact asking the Russians to engage in American politics. I just think that’s beyond the pale. There’s a lot of concerns I have with his qualities of leadership or lack thereof and I think that kind of statement only reflects the fact that he truly is not qualified to be president of the United States.”
And although it’s been some time since he issued that warning, it’s been echoed endlessly by a number of senior public servants. Now, after exhaustive probes, the special counsel appointed to investigate the very conspiracy that Panetta warned us about has multiple indictments, multiple guilty pleas, and an eye on taking down Trump himself.
When Republicans tell you that government should be limited, what they mean is that it should be limited to people like them — who are more than happy to demonstrate how dysfunctional “the system” is while getting nothing done and enriching themselves.
Instead, we should be listening to public servants like Panetta and heeding their warnings.
Featured image via Alex Wong/Getty Images