It was not easy taking 200 years of history and breaking it down.
There was a lot of resistance, a lot of tough challenges and a lot of
people who said this will never happen. Yet what I saw in those districts that really did engage was leadership and public service. Public
service involves taking risks and a lot of sacrifice that may come back
to hurt you if you’re doing what you think is right. So the leadership
that was involved in some of these communities—where they had to
basically desegregate these schools and get Black kids for the first
time to go to white schools—tested what this country was all about.
The only way we’re going to get there is by breaking down racial
barriers that have been there for a long time. It was a challenging job.
But I knew that if ultimately I could get that better education and
help them succeed, I was giving these kids a better life.
VISCONTI What does a failure of leadership cost?
PANE TTA In a democracy, we’re governed either by leadership or
crisis. And if leadership is there and people are willing to take risks
and make the sacrifices that are necessary, you either avoid crisis
or get your arms around it to make sure it doesn’t hurt the country.
But if leadership is not there, then crisis drives policy. Largely, crisis
drives what’s happening in our country. But the political leadership,
the willingness to come together, to take on those tough issues, to
work together to find a consensus, that’s the only way we govern in
our society. [Conversely], the unwillingness to do that means that,
ultimately, crisis continues to govern and you pay a price. The price
you pay is that you lose the trust of the American people. I think
people don’t believe that our system can solve problems. Whether
it’s tea parties or people who are angry, it’s about that frustration,
that lack of trust in what’s happening. If the people we elect aren’t
willing to take on these tough issues, then more anger and distrust
are going to develop. And in many ways, that will determine whether
this country will be able to move forward in the 21st century or
whether we’re going to follow the path of other empires.
VISCONTI What’s required of leadership?
PANE TTA When you work together [and] solve problems, that’s the
best politics. But I don’t think a lot of people in politics believe that
governing is good politics; they believe that it’s sound bites, attack-
ing each other and tearing each other down. I was in the Democratic
Congress and [served under] a Republican president, [and] what we
found was if we worked together … we could solve issues. It involved
some compromise and consensus. I sat through four or five budget
summits with Republicans, the administration, Democrats to work
through some very tough issues. It involved taxes, cuts and things
you have to do in dealing with deficits. But in the end, we were able
to make an agreement where we came together as Republicans and
Democrats—and that not only helped the country, that helped us
politically. Somehow, we’ve got to get back to … a view that it’s not
about scoring points. It’s really about what you are doing to fix the
country. That’s what people in public office
have to embrace: They aren’t elected to
simply survive in office. They’re elected to
go out and take risks.
VISCONTI What do you bring to this
PANETTA This organization represents
what I fought for. This isn’t an organization that’s Democratic or Republican; it’s an
organization that’s committed to a mission.
This place reflects people who are real public
servants because they aren’t in it for power
or for party or for sheer ego. They are in it
because they really care about the country.
So it’s a perfect fit for me because I always
believed throughout my career … that it was
about doing what you think is in the best
interest of the country—and that is really
what this place is about. That’s the mission
the CIA performs. It’s not about having to
come in and politically manipulate this place
to try and serve political interests. For me,
it’s easy to fight for the CIA because I think
the people here really try to … implement a
mission that involves the protection of the
country. That has made it a fulfilling responsibility. But this is a challenge. In my career, I
looked at a lot of tough challenges, whether
it was as officer of civil rights or chairman of
[the Office of Management and Budget]. But
the most rewarding part is the people who
work here because they’re committed. That’s
why I want to make sure this place reflects
the nation we serve and the diverse world
that we’re in, because the CIA will be a much
stronger operation the more diverse we are.
VISCONTI When you talk about diversity,
how are you managing this?
PANE TTA Our mission is to gather intelligence throughout the world so that we can
present the best intelligence to the president of the United States so that the president can make the best decisions. You can’t
get good intelligence without understanding
the world that we’re in, without reflecting
the ethnic background of the world [and]
relating to the nations that we’re involved