The Powell Endorsement

I’ve held off on writing anything about Colin Powell endorsing Obama, mostly because I don’t really know what I think about it. On the one hand, I’m not a big fan of Powell’s, and not just for enabling the Iraq war. Yes that sucks, but he’s hardly the only one out there guilty of that (I can’t talk). Moreover, my lack of caring about Powell stems more from the fact that I don’t buy into his general public image. Powell has basicallybeen regarded, primarily by the elite media, as a guy who disdains politics and goes along with the system for the good of the country. He’s the “original McCain” as it were. But much of this image is just total bullshit. I’m not going to say Powell hasn’t served admirably in many cases, but the idea that he totally hates politics is nothing more than a concious image he set about crafting to remain relevant, particularly with the media, once he realized that he couldn’t beat Bill Clinton for the Presidency in 1996 or best George W. Bush for the GOP nomination in 2000. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course, it is good politics. But on the other hand, that was probably the most galling thing about Powell’s tenure as Secretary of State; that as he was giving his speech to the UN and publicly building the case for a war with Iraq, his “office” was making a point to leak reports about Powell disagreeing with the march to war and fighting with Cheney/Rumsfeld. In other words, he was almost blatantly palying both sides of the argument that, eventually, he could come out looking good no matter how Iraq played out.

But all of that aside, there’s only 15 days left until the election, and John McCain needs to control the news cycle almost constantly to come back. And an endorsement like Powell’s is guaranteed to control the news for at least a day or two, eating up the precious little time McCain has left to do anything so, in that regard, it’s a very good thing for the Obama campaign.

And of course, there’sthe question of why Powell decided to endorse. My take on it is that he saw the writing on the wall and wanted to hop on the bandwagon to stay in the spotlight with the political press more than anything, hence why he waited until there’s a mere 2 weeks left, and it looks almost certain that Obama will win, before pulling the endorsement. Of course, the right is already asserting that it’s a race thing. But Adam Serwer probably asks the question best; why was Powell a Republican in the first place?

On Hardball, Buchanan suggested that Powell was “ungrateful” for what the party had done for him. The racial undertone, that Powell deserves his rise not to his own talent but to the generosity of the whites around him, is par for the course with Buchanan. But whatever the Republican Party did for Powell, he repaid by hiding their extremism and their outright and growing hostility to people of color. He put a moderate, black face that hid the nativist, warmongering, dittohead base of the party. I think people like Buchanan and Limbaugh resent him as much for having needed him as they do for his defection to Obama.

I suspect that Powell’s loyalty to the Republican party was based at least partially on the fact that he came into his own under Reagan and Bush. It also may have had to do with his feeling that Democrats take black votes for granted, but I don’t know. It certainly has nothing to do with how Powell feels about social issues.

I think the answer’s a lot simpler than that. First and foremost, Powell was a general, and military officers disproportionately lean to the GOP because Republicans are more responsive to general increases in Defense spending. His rise then took him through the Reagan and, especially, the Bush administration. It was in the latter where he gained the most prominence, and worked most closely with Realists like Scowcroft, Baker, and, believe it or not, Dick Cheney, who was much less influenced by neoconservatie thinking prior to 9/11. Through the 1990’s, with Repuublicans out of the White House, Powell was among the most prominent Republicans in the country and, as such, free to basically do whatever he wanted to do unconstrained by, say, the ideology of Newt Gingrich. Then, in 2000, W. ran as a pragmatic governor who was surrounded by many of the same people Powell had worked closely with in the first Bush administration. It was a very logical fit for Powell at the time, and it wasn’t until the neoconservative ideology took over that Powell was finally both at odds with the party in general and in a position where he was beholden to people of opposing views. So, again, it’s very logical that that’s the point where Powell finally started to drift out of the party.

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