September 11th. Iraq. Afghanistan. Iran. Weapons of mass destruction. Economic calamity. Foreclosure. Record unemployment.
According to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, these factors conspired to make the last decade one of turmoil. “Uncommon courage” combined with the strength and resilience of the American spirit will be required of our public servants and citizen leaders to forge ahead, securing the American dream for generations to come.
In a wide-ranging address hosted by the McConnell Center at the University of Louisville on March 1, 2012, Secretary Panetta cited the ever-growing national debt and federal deficit as one of the greatest threats to America’s national security. The Secretary argued that we needed to make comprehensive decisions about both federal spending and revenues so that we may “put America’s fiscal house in order.”
The grave threat posed by our national debt and deficit were crystallized when the Secretary cited three examples of his leadership during the Q&A period, all having to do with deficit reductions. While serving on the House Budget Committee (1979-85) and as its Chairman (1989-1993), Panetta helped develop deficit reduction plans, totaling nearly $1 trillion. Then, as the Director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Clinton, Panetta once again assisted in cutting the deficit by roughly $500 billion. As Secretary of Defense, Panetta has proposed a reduction in defense spending by nearly $500 billion over ten years (he continues to ask Congress to eliminate further defense spending cuts of another $500 billion).
In combination, Panetta has been instrumental in cutting more than $2 trillion from the federal deficit (and spending) over the past three decades. And, although it went without saying, Mr. Panetta seemed all too aware of the irony, knowing that during fiscal years 2010-12 the federal deficit has grown at an average annual rate of $1.3 trillion. Instead of pointing this out, the Secretary simply concluded by saying that he “regrets that we’re in the same damn hole again.”
America has overcome crisis and adversity time and again with leadership, sacrifice, and a willingness to fight—we must bring these same traits to bear today to secure our national sovereignty.
Secretary Panetta offered the audience a short story to better illustrate the American spirit and our willingness to fight: a rabbi and priest go to a boxing match in hopes of better understanding one another’s religions. Before the match begins one of the boxers crosses himself so the rabbi asks the priest what that means. The priest replies, “not a damn thing unless he fights to win.”
Secretary Panetta likened the tale to modern America. Americans, he says, have grown complacent, convincing ourselves that everything will be fine. Panetta pauses before conlcuding, “it doesn’t mean a damn thing unless we’re willing to fight for it. We all pledge to fight for the American dream; for an America that will be of, by, and for the people.”