Let’s move beyond the Monday morning headline, “Colin Powell endorses Obama,” splashed in various words across the nation’s front pages.
The importance of Powell’s endorsement lies not only in who he will vote for, but in what he said – powerful words of wisdom, spoken with genuine sincerity.
Many saw Colin Powell’s appearance yesterday with moderator Tom Brokaw on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Many did not. Many today will be limited to soundbites from, in my opinion, one of the most significant statements of this long presidential campaign.
If only every voting-age American could hear Powell’s words.
VIEW THE MSNBC VIDEO, or read the TRANSCRIPT below of Powell’s brief statement:
“Meet the Press,” NBC, 19 October 2008:
MR. TOM BROKAW, moderator: Gen. Powell, actually you gave a campaign contribution to Sen. McCain. You have met twice at least with Barack Obama. Are you prepared to make a public declaration of which of these two candidates that you're prepared to support?
GEN. COLIN POWELL, former Secretary of State: Yes, but let me lead into it this way. I know both of these individuals very well now. I've known John for 25 years as your setup said. And, I've gotten to know Mr. Obama quite well over the past two years. Both of them are distinguished Americans who are patriotic, who are dedicated to the welfare of our country. Either one of them, I think, would be a good president.
I have said to Mr. McCain that I admire all he has done. I have some concerns about the direction that the (Republican) Party has taken in recent years. It has moved more to the right than I would like to see it, but that's a choice the Party makes. And,
I've said to Mr. Obama, "You have to pass a test of “do you have enough experience, and do you bring the judgment to the table that would give us confidence that you would be a good president?" And, I've watched him over the past two years, frankly, and I've had this conversation with him.
I have especially watched over the last six or seven weeks as both of them have really taken a final exam with respect to this economic crisis that we are in and coming out of the conventions. And, I must say that I've gotten a good measure of both. In the case of Mr. McCain, I found that he was a little unsure as 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.
And, I was also concerned at the selection of Gov. Palin. She's a very distinguished woman, and she's to be admired; but at the same time, 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 Sen. McCain made.
On the Obama side, I watched Mr. Obama, and I watched him during this seven-week period. And, he displayed a steadiness, an intellectual curiosity, a depth of knowledge and an approach to looking at problems like this and picking a vice president that, I think, is ready to be president on day one. And also, in not just jumping in and changing every day, but showing intellectual vigor. I think that he has a, a definitive way of doing business that would serve us well.
I also believe that on the Republican side over the last seven weeks, the approach of the Republican Party and Mr. McCain has become narrower and narrower. Mr. Obama, at the same time, has given us a more inclusive, broader reach into the needs and aspirations of our people. He's crossing lines - ethnic lines, racial lines, generational lines. He's thinking about all villages have values, all towns have values, not just small towns have values.
And, I've also been disappointed, frankly, by some of the approaches that Sen. McCain has taken recently, or his campaign ads, on issues that are not really central to the problems that the American people are worried about. This Bill Ayers situation that's been going on for weeks became something of a central point of the campaign. But, Mr. McCain says that he's “a washed-out terrorist.” Well, then, why do we keep talking about him? And, why do we have these robocalls going on around the country trying to suggest that, because of this very, very limited relationship that Sen. Obama has had with Mr. Ayers, somehow, Mr. Obama is tainted? What they're trying to connect him to is some kind of terrorist feelings. And, I think that's inappropriate.
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. And, the Party has moved even further to the right, and Gov. Palin has indicated a further rightward shift.
I would have difficulty with two more conservative appointments to the Supreme Court, but that's what we'd be looking at in a McCain administration.
I'm also troubled by, not what Sen. 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." Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian. 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 with terrorists." This is not the way we should be doing it in America.
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 a 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 could go serve his country, and he gave his life.
Now, 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.
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 Sen. Barack Obama.
Mr. Brokaw met head-on any suggestions that Powell’s endorsement is race-based. For the complete interview, click the links above.
Thank you, Gen. Powell, for reminding us who we are.