Sunday, October 19, 2008

More on the Powell endorsement

As promised, some more thoughts about Colin Powell's endorsement of Barack Obama.

Many will say it's not too much of a surprise. Perhaps not.

Some will say that as with newspapers, a celebrity endorsement doesn't count for much. Again, perhaps not.

But Powell is no ordinary celebrity, no ordinary former public servant. He entered the Army not through West Point (the usual track for wanabee top soldiers) but through ROTC at NYC's City College -- with a C average in geology, no less -- and had to claw his way up to the top of the food chain, including dealing a very negative performance evaluation during the 1980s that could have ended his career. Later as a Washington insider he also proved his mettle and analytical skills.

While his infamous appearance before the Security Council just before the current Iraq War was a "blot" on his record -- his words -- there is no doubt that he remains a highly respected figure in America and the world by people of all colours.

So when a card-carrying Republican of his importance announces that he is backing a Democrat for President, people notice that. He's not a neo-conservative (the faction that has hijacked the party) but a classic liberal Republican, in the mode of Rep. Chris Shays or Sen. Olympia Snowe. While the Northeast Republicans are continuing to get more and more squeezed out, they still have a very important voice in the party -- because the party as a whole knows they simply can't win the White House without at least one or more of the ten north-eastern states; and they're hanging on to Ohio by a thread.

Therefore, Powell has reason to complain when he says that the GOP has become even narrower in its ideology and is no longer the "big tent" that Barbara Bush spoke of a decade and a half ago. He also understands his party needs to show strength in times of crisis. This isn't just by brandishing the sword but also by being in tune with the people's interests.

To think that it was the decision to put one person -- Sarah Palin -- at the top of the ticket along with John McCain was the catalyst for Powell's annoucement today is disturbing on its own; that a candidacy almost certain to fail will set back women for at least another decade. However, his frustration with the bigots in the party who still believe the lie that Obama is an Arab, a Muslim or both, must be trying for someone like Powell who was both a champion and a product of the civil rights movement. Prejudices die hard, especially in a nation too much influenced by hateful televangelists. As Powell pointed out -- even if Obama was a Muslim, it shouldn't matter in a multi-denominational society.

In making his decision, I believe simply that Gen. Powell was being true to himself while looking at the big picture. That's all anyone can do at the ballot box in the States on November 4th. Experience has shown this isn't always true, and even Powell made reference to the "Bradley effect" that has cost more than one black politician high office because racist subjects of telephone or exit polls simply lied to pollsters to trick them. One only hopes that this phenomenom is finally history.

Here's a thought, that I think most of the Sunday chat shows missed completely: I think Powell's main motivation was to reach out to absentee voters who need to get their ballots in the mail in the next few days to have them counted on November 4th, and who still have qualms about Obama. It turns out in the infamous 1982 California election that gave rise to the "Bradley effect," Tom Bradley did beat out George Deukmejian in polling day votes but the latter won the election after postal votes were counted. Pollsters may be missing the mail-ins which is why the GOTV for both walk-ins and postals is so aggresive from both sides this time out. Powell may be trying to bait undecided voters for Obama while they still can be caught.

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1 comment:

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