Sunday, November 7, 2010
Saturday’s annual Panetta Institute for Public Policy Jefferson-Lincoln Awards gala at the Inn at Spanish Bay was the largest in its 11-year history, said the Institute’s Chairperson Sylvia Panetta during her welcoming remarks. The event, honoring “distinguished citizens who are committed to protecting the principles and spirit of our democracy,” has, in the past, recognized a partisan-free roster including Sen. Patrick Moynihan, Sen. Olympia Snowe, CNN anchorman Bernard Shaw, PBS’s Jim Lehrer and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
This year’s honorees included NBC Nightly News Special Correspondent Tom Brokaw, NPR and ABC News Senior News Analyst Cokie Roberts and New York Times columnist David Brooks. The $400-a-head black tie event sold out to the tune of more than 400 attendees, who mingled gregariously during a reception while being plied with hors d’oeuvres and champagne and being serenaded to Vivaldi, Ellington, Porter and Latin music by pianist Carolyn Vierra, and flautists Laura Shaw and Kenny Stahl. CIA Director Leon Panetta even made a return visit, greeting arrivals in an impromptu receiving line; he would close the ceremony later with gravity, saying, “Too little is said of the fact that we are a nation at war. There’s more news about what Lady Gaga is doing, than what our troops are doing.”
The immaculately dressed crowd would later be wined and dined by a team of distinguished chefs headed by Sardine Factory COO and co-founder Bert Cutino. (Cutino took the Weekly on a back-of-house tour of the operation; see Edible blog for that story.) In between, though, Master of Ceremonies David Armanasco and Sylvia Panetta kept the tight ship on course, recognizing the Institute’s benefactors, special guests and programs like their Monterey County Reads child literacy effort and the Policy Research Fellows Program for law students, before sailing on to the main event—the three honorees, whose succinct and topical speeches were more loose and funny than the classy, candle-light enhanced ballroom might have suggested.
Brooks’ opening line set the loosened-tie tone: “When you live inside the Beltway, it’s good to get out and see the real America. So here I am.” The audience erupted in laughter, spurred on by his next self-concious quip: “I don’t know what everyone’s complaining about. Looks good to me.”
He went on to make fun of his perception of California’s health-concsious lifestyle, telling the story of a 90-year-old man passing him while both were jogging on the beach.
“It was like being passed by a Raisinete,” he said, describing the lifestyle of the West Coast wealthy as people “living at par” while “committed to not ever dying.”
But he sobered for a spell to entreat more bipartisanship from both parties.
Cokie Roberts revealed her grasp of history when, upon receiving her award, she said, “I love the idea of receiving an award with the name Jefferson on it. He would have hated the idea of a woman achieving this. He said ‘Women in public service is an idea the country is not ready for and neither am I.’”
“I’m a little nervous Leon is here,” she continued. “Who’s doing the spying? I assume there are satellites when you’re away.”
She addressed Sylvia, who stood near on the dais: “I was awfully glad you stayed here to run [the Panetta Institute]. It’s an island of civility in a sea of cacophony. People ask me if this is the most partisan time in history. No. They’re not shooting each other.” She cited historical disagreements among members of Congress, especially during Reconstruction, who would call each other out to duel with guns.
“Politicians and we in the media could learn so much from [students of the Panetta Policy Research] program. It’s essential graduates learn about public policy in this rational, interesting way. Leon and Sylvia are the best models of public service.”
Tom Brokaw limped to the stage when introduced, an effect from the cast on his leg from a broken ankle, which Sylvia paraphrased Brokaw as saying, while he was moderating a debate between Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman, “’Your state’s budget, like my ankle, is broken.’”
Brokaw took note of the actual awards, shaped like large crystal bowls: “I’ve always wanted a Pebble Beach martini glass.”
Then he took aim at Leon, saying that at other functions, attendees are often prompted to look under their plates for a number that denotes that they’ve won a prize; here, he said, “You get to pick which country to overthrow.”
He told the story of a stay at a Pebble Beach hotel with friend Peter Ueberroth, with both their young daughters in tow. He got a call from the front desk that the room next door had complained about the girls making a ruckus, which Brokaw’s wife denied. When they were leaving their room to check out, they saw the complainant: “It was someone I had known almost forever—your new governor, Jerry Brown. I said, ‘Jerry, how many times do I have to tell you? Get a life!’”
He reminisced about his early years in journalism, hanging out with other ambitious young journalists and “Republican and Democratic operatives” over “jug wine” and spaghetti dinners. But then his famous modulated voice dropped into a more somber timbre as he talked about young men and women from the “flinty hills of New England to the barrios of Texas” currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“They are less than one percent of the population, doing 100 percent of the fighting. It’s unjust to have these burdens born by these working class kids, and nothing is asked of the rest of us. The least we can do is figure out some other way to perform public service.
“We need to all think about stepping forward and re-enlisting as citizens.”
Heady stuff to lead into the coming four-course dinner.