Colin Powell Finally Comes Out…as a Liberal
By Mike Bayham
San Diego, August 1996.
As a 22 year old delegate attending his first Republican National Convention, I was on the floor of the convention center listening to what was supposed to be the highlight of the convention. And no I am not talking about Bob Dole’s acceptance speech.
As Colin Powell spoke, I stood beside the concrete pillar blocking the Louisiana delegation’s view of the stage neither enthralled nor captivated but actually wondering why this guy was speaking at the GOP convention and not the Democratic Party’s in Chicago as the retired four-star general boasted about his support for abortion and affirmative action.
Twelve years later the former Secretary of State would finally match his personal ideology with a fitting presidential candidate by endorsing Barack Obama.
In his explanation why he decided to publicly support Obama, the self-described Republican worried about the consequences of a Supreme Court further stacked by an administration of his own party. Generally people with such strong reservations about a political party no longer affiliate themselves with that particular entity.
I’ve always felt that the main reason why Powell was a Republican had to do not because he agreed with the GOP but because of his loyalty to the Republican administrations he served in and advanced through (Nixon, Reagan, Bush 41).
Powell played coy about his affiliation until after leaving government service when he finally announced that he was indeed a Republican. Over night, a draft-Powell movement formed with popular historian and Eisenhower biographer Stephen Ambrose dedicating himself to the cause until the former general took a pass, but not after frenzied media speculation had the nation guessing and Dole reaching for a bottle of Maalox.
Though Powell is closely identified in a more positive light with the first Gulf War, most people are unaware that Powell was one of the most ardent opponents within President George H.W. Bush’s inner-circle of using military force to remove Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Yet ironically nobody has benefited more from the association with the liberation of the emirate than Powell.
There have been many theories why Powell went with Obama. Rush Limbaugh has argued that it has to do with race. Others in DC contend that his endorsement of Obama was a form of penance for his role in making the case for the invasion of Iraq.
I take the general at his word and think a sincere resentment towards a party he secretly loathes for a variety of reasons combined with an attempt to legacy-build by helping elect the country’s first black president are probable motivations.
Though they come from very different backgrounds, both Powell and Obama owe their political superstar status to the media. Can anyone else name a single state legislator you think can be elected president in the next four years or Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff other than the aforementioned? Didn’t think so.
There wasn’t much difference between the early stages of both Powell’s speculated presidential bid and Obama’s, except that the Chicago community organizer had the chutzpah (or arrogance) to strike while the iron was hot.
Republicans disappointed by Powell’s supposed “defection” (how can you defect if you were really never there?) should take some solace in that while the former general has a distinguished record of military advancement, his public blessing of Obama would not be his first instance of affixing his name and all of the glamour that comes with it to an undeserving individual.
Just two weeks ago while testifying in the corruption trial of Alaskan US Senator Ted Stevens, Powell described the Dean of the Republican Senate Caucus/Alaskan political kleptocracy as a “trusted individual” of “sterling” reputation.
With friends like Senator Stevens, no wonder Powell had very few nice things to say about Alaska’s reform governor and McCain running mate Sarah Palin.
Assessing the Potency of the Powell Endorsement
Is it a game changer? Not necessarily. Powell gets more out of it than Obama, as the former will gain more acceptance with blacks than the latter will with whites. In other words, the Powell’s endorsement had more to do with himself than Obama. While I don’t think the former Secretary of State’s backing will bring over many new voters or undecideds, I do think it will further solidify for Obama those who were leaning towards the Democratic candidate but had lingering doubts that kept them from totally committing.