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Peggy pans Panetta, but it's her damning theory on why he wrote 'Worthy Fights' that's most significant


Former Reagan speechwriter's damning hypothesis on Panetta's political motives.

United States Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta attends a meeting of NATO Defense Ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012. (Photo: AP)

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Peggy Noonan lambasts Leon Panetta's new memoir, "Worthy Fights," framing the former Secretary of Defense and CIA chief as self-serving, 'unseemly' and hackish.

Contrary to many observers of the Washington mainstay as he has made the media rounds since the launch of his book, the former Reagan speechwriter lays into the substance -- or lack thereof of Panetta's new book. Holding no punches, she writes:

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta (Photo: DOD/Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo) Defense Secretary Leon Panetta (Image Source: DOD/Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo) 

This memoir of his years as a successful political and bureaucratic player is obnoxious and lacks stature. Reading a comparable book, Robert Gates’s recent, stinging memoir, you could see through the lines a broken heart. In Mr. Panetta's you see mostly spleen.

..."Worthy Fights" is highly self-regarding even for a Washington book. Mr. Panetta is always surprised, due to his natural modesty, to be offered yet another, higher position. He reluctantly accepts and wins over doubters with his plain, no-BS style. He does well, seeing around corners, saving budgets, and developing relationships with anxious prime ministers who need a pal.

Of Panetta's persistent bashing of Republicans while praising Democrats, Noonan notes:

[T]his book is smugly, grubbily partisan. Republicans aren’t bright and never good, though some— Bob Dole comes up—are reasonable.

...The compliments [for example Panetta's praise of former President Clinton as "ravenously intelligent" with an "astonishing ability to sift through facts" and notable "empathy for average people"] are at once lackeyish and patronizing.

In the epilogue Mr. Panetta seems to catch himself and writes, dictates or edits in the thought that he does not mean "to suggest that Democrats are good and Republicans are bad." But that is what he repeatedly suggests.

Here's what is disturbing: to think this is one of Washington’s wise men.

[sharequote align="center"]"Here's what is disturbing: to think this is one of Washington’s wise men."[/sharequote]

More significant than her criticism of Mr. Panetta however is Noonan's conclusion as to why he wrote the book that he did.

We argued recently that the media had been largely ignoring the closeness of the relationship between Panetta and the Clintons, and thus the political reason that might lay behind his criticism of President Obama on leadership and foreign policy -- two areas where Hillary Clinton would like to draw a contrast with the president, or at the least distance herself from his associated failures.

Noonan believes that Panetta's book is actually about more than just distancing Hillary Clinton from President Obama before 2016. The Wall Street Journal editorialist writes [emphasis Noonan's]:

Some say he wrote the book to help detach Hillary Clinton’s fortunes from those of Mr. Obama. Maybe, but Mr. Panetta is savvy, shrewd and quick to see where things are going. I suspect he's trying to detach his entire party’s fortunes from Mr. Obama. Reading this book and considering its timing, you get the impression that’s the real worthy battle on his mind.

Indeed, many candidates in the 2014 midterm elections, most notably of late Sen. Mitch McConnell's Democratic opponent Alison Lundergran Grimes, have clearly sought to run their campaigns away from the president.

Couple this with negative public polls on the president's handling of ISIS for example, and the heretofore sympathetic media's criticism of President Obama at the very least on leadership, and we see an interesting scenario of a party that it could be argued is essentially ungrateful to its leader.

Under President Obama, Democrats have garnered major legislative victories, pushing through broad swaths of its agenda, yet if Noonan is right, the party may not only view Obama as toxic to Hillary Clinton's future success, but the future success of the party as a whole.

Most interesting perhaps is the fact that while the party may be seeking to detach its fortunes from the president, the criticism seems more focused on intangible qualities than the substance of President Obama's policies.

As a slight digression, it bears noting that history has a strange way of changing the perception of political figures. Bill Clinton left office disbarred and with his reputation largely tarnished, and is now dubbed "America's favorite politician."

Whether President Obama's apparent toxicity extends beyond 2014, or we will see him out campaigning for Democrats -- and a heavily sought after political commodity -- like Bill Clinton more than a decade after his own presidency, remains to be seen.


Note: The link to the book in this post will give you an option to elect to donate a percentage of the proceeds from the sale to a charity of your choice. Mercury One, the charity founded by TheBlaze’s Glenn Beck, is one of the options. Donations to Mercury One go towards efforts such as disaster relief, support for education, support for Israel and support for veterans and our military. You can read more about Amazon Smile and Mercury One here.

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