Colin Powell has done the right thing for a change, and done it gracefully, so he may hope that he can avoid delivering the full mea culpa that the country still has coming from him. This endorsement is not about race, as the racists insist, but about rehabilitation.
The overprivileged grifters in the Bush family unaccountably had Powell’s loyalty, so he could not walk away from their party until their day was done. But when Tom Brokaw asked him to explain why he supports Barack Obama, whose plan to end the war in Iraq is supposedly anathema to Powell, his answer was glib and unsatisfactory.
He noted, correctly, that the new status of forces agreement with the Iraqi government essentially requires the United States to withdraw more or less on Obama’s schedule. But he is still clinging to the flimsy old rationale for the war — and pretending that he didn’t know what was really going on, namely that George W. Bush was determined to invade and occupy Iraq no matter what the intelligence might prove. If the British knew that in the summer of 2002, then Powell must have known, too. The chain of logic in this endorsement cannot be elided so easily. If Powell is supporting Obama because of the Illinois senator’s “judgment,” isn’t he accepting the argument that Obama made the right decision on the most important national security issue of the past five years?
For a glimpse of the former John McCain, the man for whom Powell declared his love even as he endorsed Obama, it is worth watching the video of the Al Smith dinner, an uplifting tradition of American politics that elevates wit over demagogy. This is the senator whose candor and decency charmed so many of the people who met him, at least in public. If the Smith dinner speeches were judged like a debate, McCain would have prevailed easily, although Obama was certainly funny enough on his first outing at the white-tie affair. His elegance and eloquence carry him along in any circumstance. But hearing McCain speak so genuinely about Obama, it becomes painfully obvious why his devolution in this campaign is so unfortunate, and why it is impossible to believe that he believes the things he is now saying every day.
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