Like many Republicans, I was puzzled by the odd spectacle of George Bush’s former Secretary of State, Colin Powell, endorsing Barack Hussain Obama for President. What could have driven Powell to abandon the candidate of his own party, John McCain, who is also a friend of longstanding?
Powell’s position on Iraq remains virtually identical to that of John McCain, and far removed from that of Obama. After all, Powell was the administration’s point man for the invasion, which Obama now claims to have opposed. On the economic front, too, there are differences. Powell is no tax-and-spend liberal. He has called taxes a redistribution of wealth, supports the right to keep and bear arms, and is in favor of drilling in ANWR.
Now it is true that Powell is no social conservative and, as such, is out of step with the Republican mainstream. In his support of abortion, in particular, he is closer to Obama than to John McCain. But still the question arises: Would Powell, a Black man, have endorsed Obama if Obama wasn’t Black?
Let’s start with what Powell himself, anticipating the reaction of many to his surprise endorsement, said about the race issue. He was cognizant of the racial aspect of his endorsement, he explained, but went on to say that race was not the dominant factor in his decision.
To help us think about what role race might have played in Powell’s decision let us imagine for a second that Hilary Clinton–the nominee who almost was– headed the Democratic ticket. Does anyone imagine for a moment that Colin Powell, two weeks before the election, would abandon his party of thirty years and endorse her? Or that he would justify his last-minute switcheroo by complaining about the “negative tone” of the McCain campaign, or his choice of vice president? The whole idea is ludicrous.
And yet, the only real differences between Clinton and Obama are their sex and their race. (If anything, many of Obama’s positions are slightly to the left of Hilary’s, and therefore presumably harder for Powell, the moderate Republican, to embrace.) There is no reasons to think that Powell is sexist. That leaves, standing in stark relief, the race factor. It may not, pace Powell, have been the dominant factor, but it may well have been the decisive one.
The thought that Powell would have shifted his support to Obama in part because of the accident of ancestry makes many Americans-including me–profoundly uncomfortable. If “all men are created equal,” in the words of our secular creed, then our ideal must be a colorblind society. For Colin Powell to abandon the very principle that made his own successful career possible is disheartening, to say the least. It is hard not to see this as a step backwards for race relations in America.
Charges of racism have proven a potent weapon in this campaign season. Earlier this year such accusations were even hurled at Bill Clinton, of all people. Donna Brazile, for example, objected when Clinton called Obama a “kid” who was “unqualified to be president,” complaining that this was insulting to her “as an African American.”
But if I was astounded to hear Clinton, who likes to call himself the “first Black president,” cast in the role of racist villain, I was even more surprised at the way Black voters are being solicited to fall in line behind Obama. I recall a television talk show on which a New York City councilman chided a supporter of Hilary Clinton for not supporting “the Brother.” “Come home, Sister,” the Black councilman repeatedly urged this Black elected official with some passion. The host of the show let these remarks pass without rebuke, or even mention. While there is something to be said for ethnic solidarity, I cannot imagine that any of the other races that populate America would be permitted to make such a blatant racist appeal.
The appeals seem to be working, of course. Obama’s support among the Black population is at record levels, even though many apparently have little idea what his actual positions on the issues are. Blacks are overwhelmingly pro-life, for example, while Obama is in the pocket of abortion-provider Planned Parenthood.
I am no fan of shock jock Howard Stern, but only someone who lives for controversy would have dared to point out the huge gulf that separates Obama from many of his African-American supporters on the issues. To illustrate this point, Stern went down to Harlem and interviewed people on the street.
“Who do you support for President?” he began.
“Obama,” invariably came the response.
“So you agree with Obama’s pro-life position and his determination to stay in Iraq until the job is completed,” Stern then asked them tongue-in-check.
“Oh, yes,” invariably came the response.
And they all agreed that Obama had made a very wise choice in picking Sarah Palin to be his running mate.
Clearly, if they knew nothing else, they knew that Obama was “a Brother.”
And that, my friends, is a poor way to pick a president.