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Pete Peterson And His Campaign Against Nation's Debt

Blackstone Group

Gaffes have commanded presidential campaign headlines lately, from Carly Fiorina on Viagra to Jesse Jackson's vulgar threat. Now Pete Peterson wants attention to the fact that the nation is going broke.

But because he wasn't born yesterday, Mr. Peterson will spend a billion dollars to try and make it happen.

The money, which comes from the windfall Mr. Peterson received when the Wall Street powerhouse Blackstone Groupwent public last year, will finance a massive media blitz led by the documentary film I.O.U.S.A. It aims to startle voters and politicians alike and summon them to the task of closing the massive long-term imbalance between what the government will take in and what it has promised to pay out--most notably through Social Security and Medicare.

At age 82, Mr. Peterson yearns for the can-do spirit that helped politicians forged by the Depression era finance the GI bill, the interstate highway system, and the Marshall plan from the ashes of World War II. Yet he's admittedly uncertain of finding it through the torrent of trivia raining down from the 21st century politics of rapid response rooms, micro-targeting plans, cable television rants and angry bloggers.

"Has something fundamental happened to the character of our people or our societal structure, or has no one stepped up to provide the leadership?" he said. "We're not going to know that until we try."

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