This morning, on NBC's “Meet the Press,” with Tom Brokaw, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, perhaps America's most famous military leader and statesman calmly and quietly told his American audience that he will vote for Barack Obama for President of the United States. Professing great admiration and friendship for John McCain the Secretary quietly and convincingly explained what led him to cross party lines and tell the country that he will vote Democratic in this year's presidential contest.
First, when questioned, he said it was not race that led him to this decision. “If that were the case”, Powell said, “I'd have endorsed Mr. Obama months ago”. Speaking with Brokaw, Powell related having met with both candidates several times over the last year. What really moved him, he said, was the conduct of both candidates during the current financial crisis, as well as the tone of both the McCain campaign and the Republican party, which he accused of moving further to the political right and out of the American mainstream. Citing the McCain fixation on the Bill Ayer's connections which, he said, was near demagoguery, the Secretary evidenced a growing unease in the company of the Rovian Rescumlicans. Powell has always been a decent, albeit sometimes not the best informed, man. A genuine giant in Republican circles, often mentioned as a possible Vice Presidential candidate, who has nevertheless felt betrayed by what one of his aides described as the “cabal” that had taken over the party in the wake of the Bush victory.
Today he made a break, perhaps not a complete break with the party, but a break nonetheless. Cracks are opening in the Republican ruling coalition as the ground shakes beneath them.
Powell said that it was doubtful that he would openly campaign for Obama in the short time remaining before the election. But his endorsement will be felt nonetheless, particularly in Virginia, South Carolina and Florida where huge populations of military and former military families reside. His voice will add gravitas to the Obama candidacy among those yet undecided and especially in pivotal swing states. Colin Powell as head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff emerged well over a decade ago during the First Gulf War as America's foremost military authority. It was his critique of the Rumsfeld's handling of the Second Gulf War that McCain quickly adopted producing changes in military command and what is now known as the “Surge”. Powell is one of those “transformative” figures, one of the bridges as it were, between the races. One of the first black men to emerge at the highest levels of the military and move into top governmental positions as national security advisor and Secretary of State. The phenomenon that is the Obama candidacy owes a great debt to men like Colin Powell. In a speech this morning Obama said that he is honored and deeply humbled by the endorsement he received today. The McCain campaign said it was not surprised. It shouldn't have been, Powell was simply exercising yet another act of statesmanship in a career filled with such acts of courage and vision.
The end of the week, now nearly a mere two weeks before the election, the Obama campaign has seen bedrock Republican spokesman move to join the Obama Nation.
The Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, and now General Colin Powell. Yesterday, in the swing state of Missouri, the Obama forces held a rally beneath the great Arch. Over 100,000 people gathered, 90,000 at the event and a reported 10,000 waiting to get in, to come, see and hear, Barack Obama's vision of where he would lead us in these troubled times. Many, on the periphery, could neither see nor hear the candidate but came to the event and stayed nevertheless because they wanted to demonstrate their support. Meanwhile it was reported this morning that the campaign had raised over 150 million dollars in the month of September. This is approaching near spontaneous combustion reminiscent of the “prairie fire” that swept this nation in the latter 19th and early 20th century with the Grange and Greenback movements. The ground is shaking, a fire is raging and all that the good Marshall can do now is wrap his arms around “Joe the Plumber” and hang on for dear life.