The Impact of Powell’s Endorsement

Anyone who opposed the war in Iraq is probably ambivalent to Colin Powell’s public pronouncements, given his role in promoting that war, with questionable assertions, on the world stage. Still, Powell’s recent endorsement of Barack Obama is important. The former general is viewed favorably by a large percent of the population (at least in this 2004 poll). Beyond that, though, he stands at the embodiment of a lifelong moderate Republican shivering as he stares into the abyss of today’s far-right party.

As Powell told Tom Brokaw:

And the party has moved even further to the right, and Governor 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 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.” 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 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 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.

The photo Powell is referring to was published in the New Yorker as part of a photo essay, “Service,” produced by photographer Platon. It is one extremely moving image among many, snapshots of soldiers as they mobilize for war or deal with its aftermath.

Powell’s endorsement was presented methodically. He outlined his friendship with John McCain, his disillusionment with McCain’s campaign and the Republican status quo, and the myriad factors that led him to endorse Obama.

Of course, the always-classy Rush Limbaugh had a response ready:

“Let me say it louder, and let me say it even more plainly. IT WAS TOTALLY ABOUT RACE! The Powell nomination — or endorsement — totally about race.”

Among those who were probably least surprised: Donovan McNabb. Or Jesse Jackson. Or pretty much anyone who’s listened to Rush’s show over the past 20 years.