Still, Powell enjoys a measure of respect that few, if any, former Bush administration officials share. Justly or unjustly, Powell is seen by many Americans as "the good one" from Bush's first term.
So it is that Powell's endorsement of Barack Obama is seen as perhaps being more influential than most. Newspaper endorsements, celebrity endorsements, endorsements from colleagues; these generally don't do much to change people's minds. Not that they're totally without benefit -- each endorsement is a news story and all of these stories keep the endorsed candidate in TV news rotation. It counts for something, maybe a bump, but beyond that, probably not much else.
But Powell's endorsement came with an indictment. And that's what's going to hurt. He slammed McCain as erratic and scattershot, displaying no leadership during the credit crisis as he ran from gimmick to gimmick, trying to exploit it for political gain. He tore into his selection of Sarah Palin as not being prepared to become president -- which, as Powell put it, was almost the only job the VP's required to do.
But it was the ugliness of McCain's campaign that really got Powell's attention. While the press has been reporting some of it, it's hard to get them to go in depth. The media seems to believe that they have to find something just as bad from the Obama camp before they'll report on something from the McCain camp. Of course, this leads to false equivalencies and it downplays the outrageousness of McCain supporters by comparing it with things that, when you get right down to it, aren't all that bad. If some McCain supporter calls Obama a Muslim terrorist, some Obama supporter makes fun of McCain's age. Not really the same sort of thing.
And it was that "Muslim terrorist" thing that attracted Powell's attention. He found it offensive, perhaps as a minority, but also as an American. I got this quote from Glenn Greenwald (who also has the video):
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 is: No, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some 7-year-old Muslim-American kid believing he or she can 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.
Powell then went on to cite this photo:
Elsheba Khan lost her son Kareem in Iraq. That photo is at his grave in Arlington National Cemetery. When a woman in an audience told John McCain Barack Obama was "an Arab" (i.e., a Muslim), McCain took the microphone from her, shook his head with all the gravity he could sum up and told her, "No, ma'am. He's a decent family man, [a] citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that's what this campaign's all about. He's not." He's not a Muslim or an Arab, he's a "decent family man." Even in this (perhaps manufactured) attempt to rid his campaign rallies of their reputation for hate speech, McCain blew it by engaging in a backhanded smear of his own.
Is that what Elsheba Khan deserves? Is that what Specialist Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan deserves? And it's not just Muslim Americans who are the targets of this "us against them" tactic to set American against American. Sarah Palin has spoken of the "pro-America" parts of the country who will, you've got to assume, vote for John McCain. McCain adviser Nancy Pfotenhauer said that Democrats had moved into Virginia from out of state and that the "real Virginia" would vote for McCain. It begs the question; is Arlington National Cemetery in the "real" Virginia? A lot of people have moved from the "anti-American" parts of the country to spend eternity there.
Chauvinism of one type or another is rampant in the McCain campaign -- if you're not from a small town, you're not American. If you want a middle class tax cut, you're a socialist. If you've been through some sort of higher education, you're an elitist. If you're a Muslim, you're automatically a terrorist.
This is costing McCain dearly, because it's really pissing those of us who've been labeled as "un-American" off. But never let it be said that anyone on the right ever learns a damned thing from their mistakes. When Powell endorsed Obama, we got this:
That's Benedict Arnold -- a man whose name is synonymous with treason -- in blackface. Below, the caption reads "Benedict Powell... Race Patriot." Blacks join city-dwellers, parts of America, parts of Virginia, Muslims, and other demographics in the "not a real American" category. That image comes from syndicated cartoonist Gordon Campbell, who said that Powell endorsed Obama because he "wishes to see someone who looks like himself in the White House."
Not surprisingly, Rush Limbaugh jumped in, saying that the endorsement was "totally about race." Fellow right wing talker Mike Gallagher agrees, saying "race is the factor I think that drives much of this" and that Powell is "enamored and in love with the concept of a black man being president of these United States." He also accuses Powell of stupidity, saying he lacks the "intellectual capacity to, you know, make a distinction and realize the difference" between Obama and the "long list of black Americans who would make fine presidential candidates."
What all of these freakin' mind readers are missing is that McCain didn't fail to get Powell's endorsement, he lost it -- thanks in part to idiotic statements by dumbass supporters like Campbell, Gallagher, and Limbaugh.
CNN, August 9, 2007:
CNN has learned the presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain received a check Wednesday from former Secretary of State Colin Powell, providing a symbolic boost to the Arizona Republican's struggling White House bid.
McCain spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker confirmed the contribution, telling CNN, "The Senator appreciates the support of General Powell." Powell's office did not return calls seeking comment.
According to a review of Federal Election Commission records, Powell has not donated to any other candidate this year.
Powell gave the legal maximum to McCain, $2,300. While a Powell spokesperson made it clear it wasn't an endorsement, it's pretty much as close to one as you can possibly get. Powell used to be for McCain. Then the Republican candidate -- and his idiot, divisive, bigoted supporters -- blew it. In trying to bump up McCain's poll numbers and rationalize his failures, they've chased away conservatives like Colin Powell with stupidity, smears, and empty wedge issues.
Which is why Powell's endorsement may matter more than most. In reaction, the McCain campaign and his supporters have proved every damned thing Powell said. Worse, they all seem to be constitutionally unable to see this. Having made the mistake that lost them Colin Powell, their response to his endorsement of Barack Obama is to make that same goddam mistake again and again and again.
If you don't believe that these people are too dishonest to run the nation; if you think they're not too erratic, too divisive, or too bigoted, then consider this...
They're too damned stupid to learn from their own mistakes.