General Colin Powell endorsed Barack Obama on Meet the Press yesterday, calling Obama a "transformational figure." It was not an easy choice for the former Secretary of State to go against his friend of 25 years, but there appears to be two straws that broke the proverbial camel's back for Powell. McCain's erratic behavior during as exhibited by his campaign and the choice of Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate.
With regard to the McCain campaign, two factors shifted Powell's choice on who to vote for. He said that as he watched McCain, the Republican “was a little unsure as to how to deal with the economic problems that we were having, and almost every day, there was a different approach to the problem, and that concerned me, sensing that he didn't have a complete grasp of the economic problems that we had."
The second reason was the negative tone of the McCain campaign. "They're trying to connect [Obama] to some kind of terrorist feelings, and I think that's inappropriate," Powell said. "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. And I look at these kinds of approaches to the campaign, and they trouble me." He further said, "this is not the way we should be doing it in America. I feel strongly about this particular point. We have got to stop polarizing ourselves in this way. And John McCain is as nondiscriminatory as anyone I know. But I'm troubled about the fact that within the party, we have these kinds of expressions."
Powell also had this to say about McCain's choice of Palin. "She's a very distinguished woman, and she's to be admired," he said. "But at the same, now that we have had a 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. And so that raised some question in my mind as to the judgment that Senator McCain made."
A number of voices on the conservative side of the political spectrum questioned Powell's motives, particularly stating that Powell's choice was based primarily on Obama's race. Tom Brokaw, host of Meet the Press, asked Powell this very question. Powell responded, "If I had only had that in mind, I could have done this six, eight, 10 months ago. I really have been going back and forth between somebody I have the highest respect and regard for, John McCain, and somebody I was getting to know, Barack Obama. And it was only in the last couple of months that I settled on this."
Not everyone on the political left is cheering the Powell endorsement. To many liberals, and particularly the anti-war left, Powell will always be remembered as the guy who took President's Bush's case for war to the United Nations. It is argued that Powell may have been the one person in the Bush cabinet who had the power to stop the Iraq war before it started. This is not entirely true.
Powell was Secretary of State at the time when Bush and Cheney were pushing for war in Iraq. At first, Powell pushed for more negotiations and diplomatic solutions as an alternative to war. He finally relented, and then became the reluctant warrior. Powell had a choice. He could have resigned in protest or he could have done what he did ---- go to the United Nations and press the cause for war.
Resigning in protest would probably have had the same effect as Elliot Richardson's and William Ruckelshaus's resignations as Attorney General when President Richard Nixon told them to fire Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox during the height of the Watergate investigation. Nixon found someone else to fire Cox (Robert Bork for trivia purposes.) Condolezza Rice would certainly have been willing to step in to Powell's shoes. Like Richardson and Ruckleshaus, history would have looked favorably upon Powell, but like the firing of Cox, the President would have prevailed in getting his wish.
Powell chose the other option --- become the reluctant warrior with hopes that he could have more influence on the Iraq situation in power than as a private citizen. It was a tough choice, and I'm sure there are times when Powell at least has second thoughts about his decision.
In any case, Powell's endorsement is a coup for Obama. It seriously deflates the argument that Obama is all rhetoric and no substance. Powell is still well respected in the political middle. His endorsement is bound to convince some undecideds that Obama may just be ready to be President. How many he will sway is yet to be seen.
With regard to the distinguished Governor of Alaska, isn't it about time we all came to the same conclusion of Powell --- "I don't believe she's ready to be president of the United States, which is the job of the vice president." The job of Vice President is not unlike that of back-up quarterback --- The VP must be ready at a moment's notice to become President. But unlike the back-up quarterback, there's no time for "on the job" training. With a football team, if the back-up fails, there's always next year. With regards to the Presidency, we can't write off this season and look to next year.
In the seven and a half weeks since McCain picked Palin, we have come to know the Governor of Alaska. One thing has become abundantly clear --- she is not ready to be President, and may never be ready. She has demonstrated over and over again that she has little grasp of the serious and complex issues that face the President everyday. Unlike Obama, there is nothing behind the rhetoric. There have been, throughout our history, President's who've lacked experience when the were elected (Lincoln for example,) but in most cases those with the lack of experience at least had the ability to grasp, understand, and dissect complex issues (Lincoln for example.) Palin has shown none of this. She has only shown an ability to enthuse the base and alienate everyone else.
With that said, Buzz and I have decided not to talk about her anymore. At least we will try.