…or at least his book. Peggy Noonan
…Leon Panetta ’s “Worthy Fights” pretends to offer answers to a problem of which the book is actually an example—the mindless (as opposed to thoughtful and constructive) partisanship that has seized Washington. 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.
He is catty about David Petraeus —his office is “a shrine . . . to himself.” Mr. Panetta subtly, deftly, with a winning oh-goshness, takes a whole lot of credit for the bin Laden raid. This section is accompanied by unctuous compliments for Mr. Obama, whose chief brilliance appears to be that he listened to Mr. Panetta.
“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-B.S. style. He does well, seeing around corners, saving budgets, and developing relationships with anxious prime ministers who need a pal.
Publicly Mr. Panetta has always been at great pains to show the smiling, affable face of one who is above partisanship. But this book is smugly, grubbily partisan. Republicans aren’t bright and never good, though some— Bob Dole comes up—are reasonable. Republican presidents tend to be weak or care only for the rich. He really, really hates Newt Gingrich . His headline on the entire Reagan era: “Poverty spread and deepened during the Reagan years.” Under Bill Clinton “the economy boomed,” “poverty shrunk,” and “leadership matters.” Reagan, in fairness, was less terrible than Mr. Panetta expected, “less ideological and partisan.” Mr. Clinton is “ravenously intelligent.” Mr. Panetta lauds Mr. Clinton’s “astonishing ability to sift through facts” and his “empathy for average people.” The compliments are at once lackeyish and patronizing.