Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Friday, October 26, 2012

The Color Coding of Colin Powell

Stereotypes, anyone? Dismissing Powell’s Obama endorsement as racial solidarity disregards reality. The Joint Chiefs Chairman who became George W. Bush’s Secretary of State and the current president differ as much politically and culturally as two men can.

Community organizers and rising four-star generals come from different worlds, and bracketing them is akin to pairing Joe Biden and Paul Ryan as embodying the values of working-class Catholics.  

Race, however, is harder to ignore and the backing of Colin Powell, a staunch Republican, has to be easily dismissed on the basis of skin color rather than values.

Fifteen years ago, Powell was the one of the most admired men in America, who might have been nominated by his party for President in 1996 if he had agreed to run. Today he is remembered for a February 2003 U.N. speech that misled Americans into believing Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

As Secretary of State, he had spent the previous week trying to scour his presentation of “garbage” from V. P. Dick Cheney’s staff but failing to do so.

Earlier Cheney had made it clear he and Bush were using Powell’s credibility to sell the war. Poking him in the chest, the Vice President told Powell, "You've got high poll ratings, you can afford to lose a few points."

In the end, Powell lost much more--his reputation as a man of honor after a lifetime of public service. Why didn’t he just quit and tell the truth?

The reason is best summed up in a Washington Post headline about Powell’s Bush years, “Falling on His Sword.” Good soldiers don’t retreat under fire, and they don’t write self-serving, score-settling memoirs after they leave the battlefield. But they do later make presidential endorsements based on their own experiences with empty ideologues who keep distorting and/or concealing the truth.

I must admit bias here. Colin Powell started life in Harlem and the Bronx as the child of poor immigrant parents, as I did, and was given an education at the City College of New York, as I was, by American taxpayers. He spent his working life serving them with honor and valor.

In the final days of that career, he deserved better than Bush and Cheney and now, as he tries to use his experience to make political judgments in good faith, he deserves  better than to be dismissed as a knee-jerk racial ideologue by a GOP hack like John Sununu.

Romney may not miss Powell’s support that much. After all he has the backing of Meat Loaf, a prominent man of the people from the Donald Trump School of Politics.

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