The Center for Study of the Presidency and Congress honored Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta last week at the organization’s 45th annual awards dinner.
The evening began with opening remarks by CSPC president and CEO David Abshire, board chair Thomas Pickering and master of ceremonies David Gergen, all three former White House staffers–Abshire as a counselor to President Reagan, Pickering as U.N. Ambassabor for President George H.W. Bush, and Gergen as an advisor to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Clinton. As each man introduced the next, they heaped on praise for their years of work in the public sector, with Gergen calling Pickering a “five-star general of public service.”
Panetta used his remarks to decry today’s partisan gridlock in Washington: “Nights like tonight remind me that a lot of us have been here long enough to remember when Republicans and Democrats actually worked together,” said Panetta, a former House member, who said he recalled a time when partisan politics didn’t always prevail. Of his Hill colleagues during an earlier time, he said, “They worked together because they believed that compromise was not a dirty word, but it was the essence of how you governed the country. They worked together because they were willing to take the risks needed to solve problems. The budget was balanced because of that leadership, because of their work, and governing was considered good politics, because it was.” (While Panetta served for eight terms in the House, including a stint as chair of the House Budget Committee, it was only during the time while he was White House chief of staff under President Clinton that the nation’s budget moved towards being balanced.)
Panetta called the current divisiveness between left and right and Hill and White House a “sad commentary,” adding, “We come together at a time when partisanship appears to be more important than statesmanship and when politics is more important than policy.”
The guests included 85 Presidential Fellows, who got a few minutes alone with Panetta before the dinner began. From the podium at the Ritz-Carlton West End, Gergen told them, “For a year you’ve been reading and studying about the women and women who run the government and now you are here with them.”
Other guests at the dinner included Susan Eisenhower, the granddaughter of the award’s presidential namesake. Also there were the ambassadors of Azerbaijan, Belgium, Egypt, Portugal, Latvia, Lithuania, Qatar, Spain, Iceland, current and former members of Congress, and defense industry executives from, among other corporations, General Dynamics, EADS and QinetiQ, and also Coca Cola, Deloitte and Goldman Sachs. The former Archbishop of Washington, Theodore E. McCarrick, gave the invocation, bestowing blessings upon Panetta.
The menu started with seared tuna, followed by roasted beef tenderloin with leek mashed potatoes and seasonable vegetables and a dessert of the hotel’s signature Oreo cookie cheesecake. The red and wine whites were from Robert Mondavi.