Sunday, October 19, 2008

Powell Endorses Obama

After months of rumors and speculation, Secretary Powell formally announced his support of Barack Obama this morning. Almost immediately, I started getting emails from folks who were outraged about his decision, who (regretfully) tried to paint it as yet a further example of a black man feeling duty bound to support another black man, and who said he was doing this as a way of getting revenge against the Bush Administration for the failures he witnessed during his four years at the State Department.

I have too much respect for Colin Powell to believe that any of those are true. I've long been an admirer of his life career, and having done extensive reading him over the years (including Karen Deyoung's outstanding biography Soldier) have found that he never makes any decision based on political motivation. Yes, he proclaimed himself a Republican several years ago, but his politics have always been tempered more by a sense of moderation (echoed by his statement on "Meet the Press" this morning that the Republican Party is moving too far to the right). In fact, one of the reasons he chose not to run for president in 1996 was because he was never certain that -- regardless of his popularity with the American public -- he could garner enough support from the conservative base to make it through the primary process.

I also think that he's been a good leader because he's been able to support AND oppose policies of all three presidents under whom he has served (George H. W. Bush, Clinton, and the current President Bush). And because of the approach he has taken to decisions throughout his career, I definitely don't think that his support of Obama came without much careful consideration (and not purely as a "revenge" factor, as some are already proclaiming).

If Obama wins the election on November 4, and if (hypothetically) he were to ask me for my opinion on next steps, my first recommendation would be that he nominate Secretary Powell to return to the State Department. While only a member of the Bush cabinet for four years, his time there and his distinguished military career are among the reasons why he is still held in such high regard overseas. Part of the reason he only served four years at State was because he had a strong difference of opinion with the administration on many foreign policy issues -- and I disagreed then as I do now with the request that he move on because any effective president should have cabinet officers who can disagree and argue the opposite side of an issue. A cabinet full of "yes men/women" is not an effective cabinet, and I strongly suspect that Powell would bring that same level of healthy skepticism to the next administration.

So am I disappointed in Powell's announcement? Perhaps. Am I disappointed in Powell? Absolutely not. If anything, I'm now anxious to see what role this man that I admire so much will play for the next president, be it McCain or Obama.


karen said...

Good post, Matt...I agree.

Amanda said...

Good post Matt-
I agree with you. I was totally insulted by the idea that Powell would side with Obama solely based on race. Powell just happens to be black…does this same question arise every time an influential white person declares support for McCain? NO. No one assumes someone is aligning themselves with McCain simply because he is white. And such a comment would be immediately repudiated and shunned. I think it says something scary and disturbing about our country’s current state, that the question even arose…and that CNN even had the audacity to discuss it on their morning show today-giving it more credence then it should ever merit. I think this says much in regards to the degree of respect that we are willing to grant minorities in positions of power. As long as they can espouse opinions that do not pit them against a large proportion of conservative pundits, they are accepted- and as soon as they don’t- their ideas and opinions are dismissed as trivial, low-brow, and ascribed to a perceived desire to act in a way that advances their own race/minority group at the expense of their country’s best interests. The idea that any under represented community would undermine their country’s interests to further their own is backwards- advocates in those communities desire to participate and contribute to the American vision, not threaten it. I think that the discussions of this endorsement that are focusing on race as the main issue give substance and credence to Powell’s point that McCain’s campaign is making mistakes in the direction they are leading their efforts (increased negativity) and the direction that they plan on leading the country.

rdl said...

I think that is an excellent idea that he return to the State Dept. in an Obama administration. I doubt very much tho that McCain would even consider using him.