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The Joke That Won’t Go Away: Leon Panetta’s Walnut Folly

Nuts. Washington is full of ’em, am I right? Leon Panetta thinks so, and as a down-to-earth California walnut farmer, he won’t let you forget it. On Monday, the former CIA director and secretary of defense recycled a feeble joke comparing Washington’s incompetence to the crunchy produce of his Carmel Valley walnut farm — for ...

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Nuts. Washington is full of ’em, am I right? Leon Panetta thinks so, and as a down-to-earth California walnut farmer, he won’t let you forget it.

On Monday, the former CIA director and secretary of defense recycled a feeble joke comparing Washington’s incompetence to the crunchy produce of his Carmel Valley walnut farm — for at least the eighth time. This time, the Walnut Event occurred during an interview with the New York Times. Discussing the possibility of a return to public service, Panetta shrugged. After all, Washington’s crazy. He’d rather stay in California, he offered, to work — yes, you see this one coming — "with a different set of nuts."

We get it, Leon: You’re a simple California walnut farmer, an everyman, and you’re fed up with Washington’s incompetence. (What’s missing from this self-serving narrative is the fact that Panetta is a creature of Washington. First elected to Congress in 1976, Panetta has held what seems like every heavyweight job: CIA chief, Pentagon boss, White House chief of staff, director of the Office of Management and Budget, member of Congress.)

It makes perfect sense that the time has come for Panetta to, as it were, "crack the shell" of a different career, work with a different "bushel" of nuts. Sorry. There’s nothing left to say. Here’s the supercut of Leon Panetta’s Walnut Folly:

In a January 2013 farewell speech following the end of his tenure as secretary of defense:

"The time has come for me to return to my wife Sylvia, our three sons, their families, our six grandchildren, and my walnut farm. [In a moment of candor, Panetta looks over his shoulder at President Obama]. I’m dealing with a different set of nuts."

In December 2012, Panetta loosens up the crowd at the National Press Club:

"I look forward to the opportunity to go back and pick walnuts back in Carmel Valley. I’ve told this story before, but it makes the point. When I was young, my father — when he first planted that walnut orchard, as it grew, he would go around with a pole and hook and shake each of the branches. And my brother and I would be underneath collecting the walnuts. When I got elected to Congress, my Italian father said, ‘You’ve been well trained to go to Washington, because you’ve been dodging nuts all your life.’"

In November 2012, exploding off the blocks in a talk about al Qaeda at CNAS:

"I remember working in the walnut orchard. And my father would go around — when the walnut trees got older, we’d go around with a pole and hook, and basically shake each of the branches. And my brother and I would be collecting the walnuts underneath the trees. When I got elected to Congress, my father said,‘You know you’ve been well trained to go to Washington. Because you’ve been dodging nuts all your life.’ And I have successfully been dodging nuts all of my life."

In October 2012, in a speech at the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce:

"This is another great story — I was again working in that orchard with my dad, laying irrigation pipes and working each of the trees. When the trees grew, my dad used to go around and pull a hook to shake the branches, and my brother and I used be underneath picking up the walnuts. When I got elected to Congress, my father said, ‘You know, you’ve been well-trained to go to Washington, because you’ve been dodging nuts all your life.’ It’s true."

In an August 2011 talk at the Naval Postgraduate School:

"There’s a great story that I tell because it makes a point. When I was a boy — and in those days my dad went around with a pole and hook and shook each of the branches in the walnut trees. And my brother and I used be underneath collecting the walnuts. When I got elected to Congress, my father said, you know, ‘You’ve been well trained to go to Washington because you’ve been dodging nuts all your life.’"

Earlier that month, in a speech to members of the military:

"It’s a great story — I — planted a walnut orchard, and walnuts got — you know, as they grew, my father used to go around with a pole and hook to shake the branches. These days when you’ve got walnut trees, they now put a band around the tree and shake the whole tree. But in those days he’d go around with a pole and hook and shake each of the branches, and my brother and I used to be underneath picking the walnuts. When I got elected to Congress, my Italian father said: ‘You know, you’ve been well trained to go to Washington, because you’ve been dodging nuts all your life.’"

September 2010, at a San Francisco convention of Asian-American professionals, as recounted by U.S. News & World Report:

"’I’ll tell you an interesting story,’ he told the convention goers, tying his work on the farm to his reputation as a skilled and jovial Washington insider. ‘In those days, in order to get the crop, you had to go around with a pole and hook and shake each of the branches, and then you collect the walnuts underneath the tree. And so my father would go around with the pole and the hook and hit the branches. My brother and I used to be underneath, picking up the walnuts,’ Panetta explained, working up to the punch line. ‘When I got elected to Congress, my father said, ‘You know, you’ve been well-trained to go to Washington. You’ve been dodging nuts all your life.’"

 @s__engler

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