PEBBLE BEACH -- The nation's problems are not difficult to solve. But the question is whether we have the resolve.
That's the message from the annual Panetta Institute Jefferson-Lincoln Awards black-tie dinner, held Saturday night here at the Inn at Spanish Bay.
Monterey's own Leon Panetta -- the nation's defense secretary -- was an unannounced guest at the dinner, which honored former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, former White House budget director Alice Rivlin and CNN's Wolf Blitzer. The idea behind the dinner -- as it has been for 12 years now -- is to honor those who choose the middle path in either governing or in media coverage.
That middle path -- call it moderation -- seems like a concept from out of another time. And that makes the presentation and acceptance of the annual awards both inspirational and depressing. The message is this: there's a way out of our troubles -- at least some of them -- but it won't happen if the partisan wrangling continues.
Or, as Alice Rivlin says in regards to tackling the national debt, "You can do it. It's not that hard." The debt woes, she said, are "not the fault of Barack Obama or of George W. Bush. It's demographic." What she meant by that is that the demographic bulge of Baby Boomers is making our budgeting unworkable unless some changes are made. And those changes -- raising taxes and cutting entitlements -- must be made. And the reason they're not is based on pure partisan politics and the fear of office-holders to risk their re-election changes by telling the truth.
More stark was Panetta's own words. Speaking to the black-tie crowd -- several-hundred strong -- Panetta was blunt. After praising the courage and commitment of those serving in the military, he called them "the next great generation." And he reminded the audience (and, I hope, those in Congress) "If they can give their lives to their country, then why the hell can't leaders in Washington make sacrifices themselves for the good of the country."
(Photo courtesy of Paul Miller, Carmel Pine Cone)