Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

When Leon Panetta goes to defense, he will be first Dem in post since 1997

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Leon Panetta is about to join an exclusive club. The current CIA director and former Congressman is going to switch over to Secretary of Defense.

Being Secretary of Defense is a small club, though Donald Rumsfeld made two appearances on the roster. But Panetta is about to be part of a very small club: Democrats who serve as the Secretary of Defense.

Since Richard Nixon took office in January 1969, the number of Democratic people who have been Secretary of Defense before Panetta is 3.

No Republican president has had a Democratic Secretary of Defense, yet the opposite is definitely not true. In fact since 1969, the number of Republicans in Democratic administrations has been 2, one fewer than the total of the Democratic list.

Panetta joins the list of Harold Brown (Carter), the late Les Aspin (Clinton), and William Perry (Clinton). Republicans William Cohen (Clinton) and Robert Gates (Obama) round out the other list.

Despite the less than stellar track record of Rumsfeld, he was perceived to be qualified in part because he had done the position before. And Republicans are better at acting like they belong.

Ask any liberal where he/she would start on fixing America’s budget woes, and the answer would be “Defense.” But there has not been a Democratic attempt to reconsider Pentagon priorities in 17 years. Les Aspin tried on some level, but his health and perceived incompetence stopped him for doing much, and William Perry tried, but ran into the Gingrich goons.

Of course, President Barack Obama had a chance to create a new era, but chose to keep on W’s defense manager. And no one thinks Panetta will think outside any traditional defense box.

Still, having a Democrat in the chair will be a small step of improvement. Improving the perception of Democratic people in the Department of Defense is necessary if we are to rethink defense priorities in this country.

Picking someone of the opposite party for the Cabinet hasn’t helped relations between the two major parties. George W. Bush picked Norman Y. Mineta for Transportation, and Mineta was pretty quiet at a time when transportation was crucial. President Obama picked Gates and Ray LaHood for Transportation (and nominated Judd Gregg for Commerce), yet got zero props from the GOP or the MSM for such a move.

If Democratic presidents are going to put Republicans in the Cabinet, they need to keep them out of defense. Democrats need a chance to be in charge of what is seen as a very important Cabinet post.

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Written by democracysoup

May 27, 2011 at 7:45 am

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