William Katz:  Urgent Agenda




Posted at 8:15 a.m. ET

He's back.  I thought he had retired, or gone away, or drifted off to some golf course, but Colin Powell insists on hanging around.  And now he's teasing us about his choice for president, as if, based on his statements, we should have any doubt.  This is important only because, in a very tight race, a Powell endorsement at the last minute might shift a couple of hundred thousand votes, some of them possibly in crucial places. 

I have never been a Powell fan.  I think that his is one of the more overrated careers in our recent history.  Powell always struck me as the consummate bureaucrat, a man who could drift from job to job without leaving any footprints.  His tenure as secretary of state was particularly undistinguished.  He did almost no traveling, met almost no foreign leaders unless they were passing through, and never seemed passionate about anything.  His statements after 9/11 were those of a man who'd adapted to the State Department view of the world.  He referred to the "events of September 11th," a sanitized way of describing attacks that killed 3,000 of his countrymen.  I don't recall his ever visiting the attack site in his native city of New York.  His name is on no policy following that horrible day.  He seemed to spend most of his time being blameless.

Now he returns, as CNN reports:

CNN) — Former Bush Secretary of State Colin Powell said Monday that he has not yet decided which candidate to back in this year’s presidential race.

The election of an African-American president “would be electrifying,” Powell told a George Washington University audience, “but at the same time [I have to] make a judgment here on which would be best for America."

Balancing act.  He then says:

“I have been watching both individuals, I know them both extremely well, and I have not decided who I am going to vote for. And I'm interested to see what the debates are going to be like because we have to get off of this ‘lipstick on a pig’ stuff and get into issues,” he said.

He knows both candidates extremely well?  How well could he know Obama, a recent arrival to fame?  And apparently the general doesn't care for the tone of the campaign.  Not good enough for him.  In fact, issues have been widely discussed.

Earlier this year, Powell told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that he was weighing an endorsement of a Democrat or independent candidate. “I am keeping my options open at the moment,” said Powell.

“I have voted for members of both parties in the course of my adult life. And as I said earlier, I will vote for the candidate I think can do the best job for America, whether that candidate is a Republican, a Democrat, or an independent,” he added.

Okay, let's wave that flag.  But his career was made possible by Republicans, although he seemed to have a snobbish view of the greatest of them, Ronald Reagan.  When President Reagan proposed saying publicly to the Soviet leader, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall," it was reported that Powell tried to talk him out of it.  Why take a stand? Why do stuff when you can just be there?

Powell also offered praise for Obama, calling him an “exciting person on the political stage.

“He has energized a lot of people in America,” said Powell, who briefly weighed his own run for the White House in the mid-1990s. “He has energized a lot of people around the world. And so I think he is worth listening to and seeing what he stands for.”

Yeah, yeah, yeah.  I love words like "energized."  Obama has energized people around the world?  What precisely are they doing?

The kicker:

Another source close to Powell said that he has known McCain for more than three decades “and likes him, and is looking for a reason to vote for him. He hasn't found it yet."

He's going to endorse Obama, probably as a way of getting back at people who eased him out of the Bush administration.  I don't recall McCain begging Bush to let Powell stay.  I'm hoping the American people will discount the endorsement, but, as I said, a critical mass might be influenced.  Let's hope McCain is ahead by enough to negate any effect.

September 16, 2008.