After months of mulling over who he would endorse for president, former Secretary of State Colin Powell announced Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” that he was throwing his support to Sen. Barack Obama.
For several minutes during an interview with Tom Brokaw, Powell allowed the answer to hang in the air while he thoughtfully discussed the strengths and weakness of Obama and Sen. John McCain, and like the long awaited “October Surprise,” he said his choice was Obama, noting that “he is a transformative figure, he is a new generation coming on the world stage.”
During his seven-minute response to why he would be voting for Obama, Powell stressed the candidate’s “style and substance…his ability to inspire” and “the inclusive nature of his campaign.”
“Obama displayed a steadiness, an intellectual curiosity, a depth of knowledge,” Powell continued. “He has met the standard of being a successful president, being an exceptional president.”
Upon hearing of the endorsement, McCain said he was “not surprised,” perhaps inferring that Powell’s decision was based on race. Brokaw raised this question during his interview.
“If I had only had that in mind, I could have done this six, eight, 10 months ago,” Powell said. “I really have been going back and forth between somebody I have the highest respect and regard for, John McCain, and somebody I was getting to know, Barack Obama. And it was only in the last couple of months that I settled on this. And I can’t deny that it will be a historic event for an African-American to become president. And should that happen, all Americans should be proud–not just African-Americans, but all Americans–that we have reached this point in our national history where such a thing could happen. It will also not only electrify our country, I think it’ll electrify the world.”
When asked about the accusations that Obama is a Muslim, Powell smoothly dispatched that false assertion, and added: “…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.”
Powell then told a very moving story about a young man who was killed in Iraq and who is buried in Arlington Cemetery with a crescent and star on his grave stone. “His name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American,” Powell explained. “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 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.”
What will be the impact of Powell’s endorse coming so late in the campaign is a question that is making the rounds among pundits and other interested parties. Many concede that it’s impossible to know that, however, since Powell has been undecided for so long it may help others who have been sitting on the fence, uncertain which way to go, some have speculated.
“If it were merely the matter of race, he could, as he has said, endorsed Barack a long time ago,” said Milton Allimadi, publisher of the Black Star News, speaking on Gary Byrd’s show on WLIB and WBLS on Sunday.
Reporter Cash Michaels was so taken with Powell’s comments that he was practically speechless, effusively praising the former general and head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “It was so astounding that I’m sorry for jumping the gun,” he said, apologizing to his host and fellow panelists. “It was one of the most profound endorsements I have ever heard.”
Powell said that while he will vote for Obama, he expressed no intention to campaign for him.
Would he be interested in taking a cabinet position and working with an Obama White House should he win? “I served 40 years in government,” Powell said, “and I–I’m not looking forward to a position or an assignment. Of course, I have always said if a president asks you to do something, you have to consider it. But I am in no way interested in returning to government. But I, of course, would sit and talk to any president who wishes to talk to me.”