October 20, 2008

Powell's questionable endorsement

After the weak Washington Post’s endorsement of Obama, I was waiting for a more straightforward one—though widely expected—by the New York Times, but so far nothing of this kind has happened. In the meanwhile an even more influential endorsement of the Democratic party candidate arrived: that of former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. This high-profile backing, as Mark Halperin puts it, comes in “one of the most important symbolic moments” of the campaign, a moment “of great tactical importance.”

Yet, as much as I am still trying to grasp the deepest philosophical meaning of that “for Obama, but barely” WP editorial, I cannot find any very convincing argument in Powell’s endorsement. Perhaps this is because I don’t live in the U.S. and I am not that informed—in spite of all my efforts—about what is happening over there. Or perhaps even former general Colin Powell, like the Washington Post, is too subtle for me. The latter option is the most plausible one, IMHO.

However, when Powell, to justify his decision, says he is disappointed in the choice of Sarah Palin as the Republican vice-presidential nominee, I think there is no reason to complain, whatever your opinion may be on the Governor of Alaska. But when he says that another reason to endorse Obama is the negative tone of McCain’s campaign in the recent weeks (particularly its focus on Obama’s passing relationship with William Ayers and Republican false intimations that Obama was Muslim), well, I am puzzled. In fact, as Rick Moore puts it on his blog,

For one thing, no official of the Republican Party or the McCain campaign ever accused Obama of being a Muslim. That was coming from partisans who were not officials of either the campaign or the party, and it’s disingenuous for Powell to bring that up as a reason for his decision.

As for the “personal” attacks, he continues, they

have been legitimate attempts to point out the weaknesses in Obama's background and associations and fill in the gaps in his resume that the mainstream press won’t do. That’s all part of the campaign process, and if Powell can’t understand or tolerate that, it’s a good thing he never chose to run for elective office.

How could anyone in his right mind not agree with Rick?

Having said that, Colin Powell brings Obama indisputable benefits. One is that

the former Secretary of State and general is sure to block out any chance McCain has of winning the next two or three days of news coverage, as the media swoons over the implications of the choice. It is simple political math: McCain has 15 days to close a substantial gap, and he will now lose at least one fifth of his total remaining time.

Powell's decision brings other clear benefits as well. He is so trusted for his judgment on national security (even in the wake of his role in the current Iraq War) that his confidence in Obama to become commander-in-chief will resonate with many elites and voters. The Democrats' ability to play the Powell card for the next two weeks makes it much harder, even if there is an unexpected international crisis, for Republicans to suggest Obama simply isn't qualified to protect the country. Powell reinforced Obama's qualifications on "Meet the Press": "Senator Obama has demonstrated the kind of calm, patient, intellectual, steady approach to problem-solving that I think we need in this country."

If some voters still see Obama as a nebulous, unknown figure with questionable associations and liberal tendencies that makes them wary of voting for an African-American, Powell's decision may ease their minds. In some ways his image is the perfect complement to Obama's. Unlike the newly arrived Obama, Powell has been an establishment figure of vast experience in the national spotlight for well over a decade on military and international affairs, first as a career Army man, then in a variety of national security roles, culminating in his service as Secretary of State.

I don’t think there’s any question about that.

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