The Colin Powell Endorsement: What This Does for Obama

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To endorse Obama, Powell not only had to break with his party, he also had to break with McCain, a friend of 25 years, and like Powell, a decorated Vietnam War veteran. His reasoning was straight-forward and deliberate. “Obama has both style and substance,” the Harlem-born Powell declared. “I think he is a transformational figure."

[Election 2008]

There was something both elegant and matter-of-fact about General Colin Powell’s endorsement of Barack Obama today as President of the United States on NBC’s Meet the Press.

The news of Powell’s endorsement, which had been anticipated for weeks, marked yet another triumphant moment in Obama’s historic run for the presidency. And it has broken like wildfire across the newswires and Sunday morning talk shows as the campaign heads into its final two-week stretch.

Perhaps most importantly, Powell’s endorsement calls lie to the vicious attacks on Obama’s character and patriotism in the final weeks of the campaign.

Powell broke the news without hyperbole. His reasoning was straightforward and deliberate. “Obama has both style and substance,” the Harlem-born Powel declared. “I think he is a transformational figure."

Transformational. The word has gravitas coming from the likes of Powell, who has served with distinction in the Republican Administrations of Ronald Reagan and both Bushes as National Security Advisor, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and finally, as Secretary of State. 

To endorse Obama, Powell not only had to break with his party, he also had to break with McCain, a friend of 25 years, and like Powell, a decorated Vietnam War veteran. It could not have been an easy decision.

“I come to the conclusion that because of Obama’s ability to inspire,” Powell declared, “because of the inclusive nature of his campaign, because he is reaching out all across America, because of who he is and his rhetorical abilities—and you have to take that into account —as well as his substance—he has both style and substance. He has met the standard of being a successful president, being an exceptional president.”

Case closed. McCain’s campaign manager Rick Davis and the rest of the right-wing nutcases in the McCain camp must be apoplectic.

“Senator Obama has demonstrated the kind of calm, patient, intellectual, steady approach to problem-solving that I think we need in this country,” Powell declared. By implication, McCain had not.

Indeed, Powell took two direct shots at McCain’s campaign. He referenced the “over the top” negative tone of the McCain-Palin rhetoric. Perhaps, most importantly, he expressed strong and direct criticism of McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin.
“Now that we have had a chance to watch her for some seven weeks,” Powell observed, “I don't believe she's ready to be president of the United States, which is the job of the vice president. And so that raised some question in my mind as to the judgment that Senator McCain made.”

Don’t expect Powell’s decision to change anyone in the right-wing trenches of the Republican Party, where there’s been an undertone of racism bristling towards the surface in recent months. But it will force independents, undecided voters and even moderate Republicans to take Obama’s campaign seriously.

Perhaps a bit more surprisingly, Powell went after the McCain campaign about trying to link Obama to ‘60s radical Bill Ayers.
“Mr. McCain says that he's a washed up terrorist, but then why do we keep talking about him?” Powell asked rhetorically. “And why do we have the robocalls going on around the country trying to suggest that because of this very, very limited relationship that Senator Obama has had with Mr. Ayers, somehow Mr. Obama is tainted. What they're trying to connect him to is some kind of terrorist feelings. And I think that's inappropriate. Now, I understand what politics is all about, I know how you can go after one another and that's good. But I think this goes too far, and I think it has made the McCain campaign look a little narrow. It's not what the American people are looking for.”

Powell, whose own patriotism has also been questioned because of his race, was obviously sensitive to attacks against Obama claiming that he’s a Muslim.

“The correct answer is,” Powell noted, “he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, ‘He's a Muslim and he might be associated with terrorists.’ This is not the way we should be doing it in America.”

Powell’s popularity over the past two decades has been extraordinary—ranging in the high 70’s to the low 80’s. His popularity transcends party politics. Indeed, he considered a run in the 2000 presidential election himself.

But Powell has never liked the flying-elbows of American politics. In the end, he decided to stay out of the fray.
Nonetheless, there’s one piece of important historical backdrop to Powell’s endorsement that you will never hear on mainstream television. Powell still privately bristles at the lies George Bush told to the American people about the invasion of Iraq. It was Powell, in his capacity as Secretary of State, who was forced to go to the United Nations and lie about weapons of mass destruction. According to the Washington Post, Vice President Dick Cheney had joked with him before he gave the speech, telling him, “You've got high poll ratings; you can afford to lose a few points.” 

It left a sour taste in his mouth. He calls it a “blot” on his record. Afterwards, he distanced himself from the Bush inner-circle and was eventually asked to resign his post by then President Bush’s chief of staff, Andrew Card. Neither Bush nor Cheney had the guts to do it himself.

But today, Powell struck a strong and powerful note against the failed politics of his former Republican cronies. Was it a game changer? Probably not. More like a game closer. With little more than two weeks left until Election Day, this one seals the deal. Now, as Barack Obama points out, we all need to run hard through the finish line—with General Colin Powell leading the charge.



Black Star News national affairs columnist Geoffrey Dunn, Ph. D., is an award-winning filmmaker and journalist. He is the former recipient of a both a John L. Senior Fellowship to the Cornell University Graduate School of Government and a National Newspaper Association Award for Investigative Journalism. His most recent film is Calypso Dreams.


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