In a Sunday Meet the Press interview that offered nearly as much criticism of the Republican Party as praise for Barack Obama, former Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Colin Powell, endorsed Obama for president.
Although it wasn’t until 13 minutes into the interview that Powell explicitly endorsed Obama, Powell’s intention was clear from the first moments.
In the first two minutes, Powell was asked about what he saw “on the horizon” for whoever would next serve as president. Striking a chord that was well within Democrat talking points, Powell talked about “reach(ing) out to the world,” with the new president showing he is “looking forward to working with our friends and allies” and, in clear distinction from John McCain,“also willing to talk to people who we have not been willing to talk to before, because this is a time for outreach.”
Getting to his endorsement, Powell led in with praise of both McCain and Obama, then said he had concerns about the “direction the (Republican) party has taken in recent years…it has moved more to the right than I’d like to see it” as well as offering mild concern about Obama’s experience and judgment.
Powell took some hard shots against McCain and the Republican Party, saying McCain looked “unsure as to how to deal with the economic problems that we’re having, and almost every day there was a different approach to the problem.” He added “I was also concerned about the selection of Governor Palin…now that we have had the chance to watch her for some seven weeks, I don’t believe she’s ready to be President of the United States, which is the job of the vice-president. So that raised some question in my mind as to the judgment that Senator McCain made.”
Regarding Obama, Powell said he “displayed a steadiness, an intellectual curiosity, a depth of knowledge, and an approach to looking at problems like this, and picking a vice-president that I think is ready to be president on day one. And also in not just jumping in and changing every day, but in showing intellectual vigor.”
For this observer, it is hard to see what intellectual vigor was displayed by Obama having no real response to the economic crisis other than wanting “spread the wealth around” while espousing policies that will make today’s economic situation look like a financial nirvana. Perhaps part of the reason Obama can be seen to look smart by saying nothing is that Powell is not altogether off the mark in his criticism of McCain’s approach to our financial and housing market turmoil.
Powell then lapsed into more Democratic talking points: “On the Republican side, over the last seven weeks, the approach of the Republican Party and Mr. McCain has become narrower and narrower. Mr. Obama at the same time has given us a more inclusive, broader reach into the needs and aspirations of our people.” He then added (somewhat oddly), “He’s thinking about all villages have values, all towns have values, not just small towns have values.”
Powell suggested that the McCain campaign’s focus on Bill Ayers is something “that is not central to the problems the American people are worried about.” But this was just a warm-up for Powell’s real problem with the Republican Party: “The Party has moved even further to the right, and Governor Palin has indicated a further rightward shift. I would have difficulty with two more conservative appointments to the Supreme Court, but that’s what we’d be looking at with a McCain administration.”
Powell concluded his endorsement saying, “We have two individuals, either one could be a good president. But which is the president that we need now? And I come to the conclusion that because of his ability to inspire, 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 — we 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. I think he is a transformational figure, coming on to the world stage, on to the American stage, and for that reason I will be voting for Senator Barack Obama.”
When asked about Obama’s experience, particularly compared with his own, Powell said that Obama was learning the issues and that “he is surrounding himself, I’m confident, with people who will give him the expertise that he at the moment does not have.” How he can square that with criticism of McCain for choosing Sarah Palin is something that only a mind corrupted by too much government service can understand. Actually, not all government service produces this result.
When challenged directly by Brokaw, Powell said his endorsement of Obama wasn’t a matter of race. Which is true. It’s a matter of diplomacy, a world in which Powell served long enough to have his judgment tainted.
Colin Powell is channeling the State Department, where professional bureaucrats go out of their way to undermine Republicans in general and the Bush Administration in particular. It is all to easy to imagine one of the same “refugees from the State Department,” as John Bolton put it in the Washington Post, who helped created the highly flawed 2007 National Intelligence Estimate about Iran saying just what Powell said about internationalism and “talking to people we have not been willing to talk to before.”
Talking is something Powell does selectively. Conservative columnist Robert Novak’s report of CIA employee Valerie Plame’s connection to the agency was not — as the press, Plame and her husband former Amb. Joe Wilson insisted — because of a leak by Vice President Cheney’s then chief of staff Scooter Libby and Karl Rove. It was by Powell’s Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage.
The problem for Republicans is that both Powell and Armitage knew that from almost the day the Novak report was published. And both — for about three years — kept that secret from the president and from the men who were being hounded by the press, the special prosecutor and the media. It was an act of disloyalty that history will record.
Colin Powell’s endorsement of Barack Obama may help Obama at the margins, though most politically attentive Americans would not have expected him to endorse McCain. If there’s one thing the endorsement does for sure, it ends any possibility of Colin Powell running for president, at least without changing political parties.