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Monday, October 20, 2008

General Colin Powell's Endorsement of Barack Obama

There were rumors and speculation all week that Obama would get General Powell's endorsement, so it was not a tremendous surprised when that came to fruition. For the me the real surprise if you will, is the way he did went about doing it. Slowly, methodically, and thoroughly. He covered a wide area of issues and he took about seven minutes to do so.

The question everyone asks is what does it mean? One commentator said that generally endorsements do not mean much other than a brand name shortcut for voter information (it sounded like it came right out of the political science literature) that is inversely important to the prestige of the office. In other words, the higher the office, the less important the endorsement is. And I agree. I think endorsements for school board and city council candidates are far more important precisely because people have so much less information about the candidates.

We pay attention to newspaper endorsements as a sign as to how the candidate is doing less than a belief that a newspaper endorsement is really going to convince someone to vote one way or another.

The Colin Powell endorsement is different. First, Powell is one of those figures in American public life that seems to transcend partisanship. He is respected across the board except perhaps by the hard left. For that reason, his reputation is unimpeachable and in response you did not see Republicans yesterday able to discredit him or even attempt to. That's telling.

Second, his words were powerful and they help convince those voters on the bubble to take a chance on Obama. If you are concerned about Obama's foreign policy experience, Powell re-assures you. If you are concerned that Obama is risky and inexperienced, Powell reassures you.

Finally, any time you get an endorsement from the other side of the aisle it is a measure of how things are going for your campaign.

All of that would be true is Gen. Powell had opened his mouth to say he was voting for Barack Obama and nothing else.

But he did not stop there. His words are devastating if you are the Republicans or John McCain. He has known McCain for 25 years, he is a friend of John McCain, he supported John McCain a year ago. And now he is supporting Barack Obama.

For me, there is so much that we could focus on of what he said, but I think there are really two statements that stand out above all else and he gets into William Ayers, his judgment of selecting Sarah Palin, his demeanor during the time of economic crisis, the tone of the campaign, etc.

For me it was when he talked in plain terms about the Muslim charge, that is what I thought was powerful.

Gen. Powell says:
"I'm also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, "Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim."
This is the point I made last week. Powell makes is stronger and more credibly than I could.
"Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian."
This is where John McCain stopped, but Powell makes the same point I did.
"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 terrorists." This is not the way we should be doing it in America."
And if that were not strong enough as a statement, General Powell hammers it home in a way that really made you feel that the General means every single word he said. This was not a gut decision, this was a well-thought out statement about America and the America that this hero in our country wants to see.
"I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son's grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards--Purple Heart, Bronze Star--showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn't have a Christian cross, it didn't have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life. Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourself 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."
I am tired of anti-Muslim bigotry in this country. I am tired with the implication that if Obama is a Muslim, which he is not, that he must be associated with terrorists. There are Muslims who have fought and died for this country, who heeded the 9/11 call just as much as Christians and just as much as Jews and just as much a many Americans across all walks of life. John McCain is not a bigot, but John McCain did not get it either when the woman accused Obama of being an Arab and McCain said no he's not, he's a decent person. That's not the right answer, Gen. Powell's answer is.

Kareem Khan is a war hero with a bronze star and a purple heart and he was an American and he was a Muslim.

But that was not enough for General Powell. The line that the electorate is likely to hear for the next week's is the line about Barack Obama being a "transformational figure."

Here's the full excerpt:
"So, when I look at all of this and I think back to my Army career, we've got two individuals, either one of them could be a good president. But which is the president that we need now? Which is the individual that serves the needs of the nation for the next period of time? 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--and 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. He is a new generation coming into the world--onto the world stage, onto the American stage, and for that reason I'll be voting for Senator Barack Obama."
Two other quick points. Powell gives Obama cover on the military issue:
"I have watched him over the last two years as he has educated himself, as he has become very familiar with these issues. He speaks authoritatively. He speaks with great insight into the challenges we're facing of a military and political and economic nature. And he is surrounding himself, I'm confident, with people who'll be able to give him the expertise that he, at the moment, does not have. And so I have watched an individual who has intellectual vigor and who dives deeply into issues and approaches issues with a very, very steady hand. And so I'm confident that he will be ready to take on these challenges on January 21st."
Finally the issue of race. This is where I really got angry with Pat Buchanan yesterday. Buchanan implied that this was simply about race. I do not believe anyone who knows Gen. Powell believes that.

Brokaw to his credit asked the question because it needed to be addressed strongly and Gen. Powell did just that.
"If I had only had that in mind, I could have done this six, eight, 10 months ago."
Then he really nailed it.
"I can't deny that it will be a historic event for an African-American to become president. And should that happen, all Americans should be proud--not just African-Americans, but all Americans--that we have reached this point in our national history where such a thing could happen. It will also not only electrify our country, I think it'll electrify the world."
I have seen many endorsements, I am not sure I have seen such powerful testimony on a wide array of issues from someone as respected as Gen. Powell. This endorsement will matter. It dominated the news cycle yesterday and will likely dominate again today. And it provides people on the bubble with a reason to vote for Obama. I cannot think of a stronger statement or a more powerful messenger.

For those who have not seen it, here is the video of it:

---David M. Greenwald reporting