WASHINGTON -- Leon Panetta served in Washington with nine presidents, starting with Lyndon Johnson. He has been a member of Congress, Office of Management and Budget director, White House chief of staff, director of Central Intelligence and secretary of defense -- the last two under President Obama. He is a man who knows Washington, and knows how to choose his words. So Panetta's implicit rebuke of the president's hands-off approach to the budget crisis at a breakfast Monday was striking.
Indeed, implicit may be an understatement. Asked repeatedly whether he was being correctly understood as critical of President Obama, Panetta was careful to assert that "I don't want to put it all on the president" and that there is "enough blame to go around." But he did not back down.
"It's hard to watch what's going on here," Panetta said at the start of the session, sponsored by The Wall Street Journal. He noted that there are two ways of governing: by leadership or by crisis. "This town has been governing by crisis after crisis after crisis," he said.
Which raised the obvious question: Was he saying something about the president's leadership?
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