Leon Panetta has come a long way since he was a maverick (and one man’s maverick is another man’s gadfly) in RN’s Department of HEW. The Wall Street Journal has just posted an article online indicating that President Obama’s nominee to head the CIA has been part of the problem. In the current climate, will this prevent him from being part of the solution?

The White House’s nominee for Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Leon Panetta, has earned more than $700,000 in speaking and consulting fees since the beginning of 2008, with some of the payments coming from troubled banks and an investment firm that owns companies that do business with federal national security agencies.

Mr. Panetta received $56,000 from Merrill Lynch & Co. for two speeches and $28,000 for an Oct. 30, 2008 speech for Wachovia Corp. Both firms suffered big losses last year and were acquired by larger banks. The Wachovia honorarium was on Oct 30 of last year while the last Merrill Lynch honorarium was on Oct. 11, according to disclosure forms filed by Mr. Panetta in connection with his nomination. At the time, Bank of America had already agreed to a rescue of Merrill Lynch, while Wachovia had agreed to be acquired by Wells Fargo & Co.

Mr. Panetta also received a $28,000 honorarium from the Carlyle Group, which owns a number of companies that do business with the national security agencies of the U.S. government.

Mr. Panetta is set to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee Thursday about his nomination.

Mr. Panetta is a former Congressman from central California who served as White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton. A White House spokesman for Mr. Panetta didn’t immediately respond to inquiries about the disclosures.

Mr. Panetta also reported receiving a $60,000 “Governmental Advisor Fee” from the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents the shipping industry. The group lobbies the federal government regarding terrorism laws that affect shipping. A spokesman for the association didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Another big source of income for Mr. Panetta was California State University, Monterey Bay, which hosts his nonprofit foundation, the Leon & Sylvia Panetta Institute for Public Policy. The school paid Mr. Panetta $150,000 in “consulting fees,” he reported.

Most of these speech fees are unattractive but business as usual. (Although the Institute arrangement sounds hinky in its own way.) We’re fast reaching the point at which we have to make a decision whether we are going to exclude people who have benefitted from the lucrative and inbred —and unquestionably excessive and frequently obscene— culture that has grown in and around Washington over the last few decades.  It’s very tempting to do just that.  But —to quote a very wise man— “because desserts are just doesn’t mean they’re good.”

Senator Obama won, and President Obama ought to have the Cabinet and administration he wants — and then to be judged on it at the appropriate time.

Geithner, Gillefer, Daschle, Panetta — these are able, distinguished, dedicated, and honest people.  Just because one disagrees with them on almost every policy position doesn’t alter that.  Nor does the fact that they have gone along with the prevailing culture and become careless and/or arrogant along the way.  

And now things have changed in Washington in this regard.  Bigtime, as The Wall Street Journal and David Brooks among many others have recently observed.

The rock has been lifted and the sunshine has exposed the sliminess hidden beneath it.  Men and women who have supped off and benefitted from the K Street trough should be identified and shamed.  And in cases where their behavior has been egregious they should be disqualified.  But to exclude them all out of hand will be to cut our nose to spite our face.  Turning the confirmation process into an on-going game of gotcha will only end up consigning us to a government of the inexperienced and/or second-rate for the next four years.  That hardly makes sense at any time much less a time of crisis.