When Gen. Colin Powell, the first Black Secretary of State who previously served under President George W. Bush, endorsed then candidate Obama in 2008, it was not extremely surprising. He candidly chastised his own Republican Party and presidential hopeful Senator John McCain (R-AZ) during the endorsement. He perceived shortcomings in the campaign and wasn’t confident in McCain running mate, Sarah Palin, as a potential president if circumstances required it. But, this time around, Powell’s endorsement has been overshadowed by a prominent Romney surrogate, former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu, who implied that the endorsement was primarily because of Powell and Obama’s shared Black race. Here we go with this mess…
Powell, Sununu, and Obama
Powell’s stature and status in the political community is not often challenged. He played an integral role in the Bush Administration during the declaration of the Iraq War. He is even sometimes credited with providing the primary catalyst taking the United States into the war with his “weapons of mass destruction” speech to the U.N. He has since distanced himself from his war torn mistakes and other traditionally conservative values. Many voters and politicians, on both sides of the aisle, respect him for his consistency and experience.
Always the diplomat and strategic politician, Powell gave a concise list of reasons why he’d be supporting President Obama this year. They included uncertainty about Romney’s foreign policy and “some very, very strong neo-conservative views that are presented by the governor that [he has] some trouble with.” Who was he talking about? Well, he might be addressing the 17 out of 24 officials on Romney’s foreign policy team who were also members of the Bush-Cheney Administration. With the known issues of judgement displayed during Bush Administration, these seem like logical enough reasons to express endorsement for the incumbent. Right?
Well, maybe not. According to Sununu, race might be a factor in Powell’s endorsement. He stated, “frankly, when you take a look at Colin Powell, you have to wonder whether that’s an endorsement based on issues or whether he’s got a slightly different reason for preferring President Obama.” That “slightly different reason” has become the giant red elephant in the room. He clarified by saying, “I think when you have somebody of your own race that you’re proud of being president of the United States, I applaud Colin for standing with him.” Well, that’s nice. A pat on the back to Colin Powell for standing with the Black guy. This unsavory comment has left many to not only question Sununu’s character but Governor Romney’s impression of the Powell endorsement. Is this just Powell pouring one out for the homey?
Oh, Those Homies and Their Endorsements and Whatnot…
So, if Powell and Obama are homies or patnas or whatever, and if they are so specifically because they are both Black, that would explain Powell’s endorsement back in 2008. Right? Because, based on this line of thinking, Obama’s blackness trumped McCain-Palin’s awesomeness. Yet, this assumes that the McCain-Palin ticket was a viable one…a point that the American public resoundingly rejected. So, I guess we can disqualify race being a factor in 2008.
For this second endorsement, Powell clearly and articulately laid out his reasons for supporting President Obama’s foreign policy stances. Is that not enough? Apparently not. Instead, Powell’s endorsement has been painted as a racially-biased, placatory stance favoring a fellow Black man. On its face, this assertion might seem harmless. But let’s break down the endorsement further to see what Sununu’s words really do.
Why Powell’s Endorsement Counts
With a small percentage of American voters still undecided and with the race so close, these last few days really count. Undecideds are extremely valuable to the candidates in swing states like Ohio, Colorado, and Florida. Colin Powell, a long-time Republican, may bridge the gap for many moderate voters who have considered supporting the incumbent. Incumbency is always a major benefit in politics but both campaigns are scrambling to get as many supporters to the polls as possible before November 6th. The last thing Romney needs is a moderate Republican coming out in favor of the President.
Therefore, Sununu’s words are actually quite brilliant. They do several things for the Romney-Ryan ticket.
1) They pivot away from Powell’s comments on Romney’s inability to handle foreign affairs appropriately. With the ongoing difficulties Romney has had with non-domestic issues, casting doubt on Powell’s assertions might sway some voters to stand with Romney.
2) They distract from the need to research what Powell meant by the “neo-con” comment. Most voters don’t know what a neo-Conservative is let alone who is on Romney’s foreign policy team. And, if many voters found out it was mostly comprised of Bush foreign policy advisors, that wouldn’t be a great thing for Romney.
3) They, once again, blame Obama’s support on race. Moderate white voters might align themselves with a race neutral Powell. But, a racially driven Powell, nah, not so much. Race is still the great divider in this country. And although many claim that we are “post-racial” this presidential race has had to confront racial issues several times. Often, not driven by Obama but by everyone else. Other people, like Donald Trump, have made it quite clear that President Obama’s race is an issue.
Does anyone think that this didn’t happen because of some “slightly different” reason than Obama’s race?
Race is still a issue. A major issue. But, President Obama doesn’t really seem to be the person making it a wedge issue in the election cycle. He dismissed Trump and Sununu by proverbially dusting his shoulders off on several occasions this week. And, since when are endorsements predicated on race? Every president to date has been white. Were all the white people endorsing them bigots? The questions could go on forever which proves that this statement is not only asinine but also ignorant.
In all, these seemingly trite political interactions are shrugged off by many a decided voter. But, for the few that are still pondering their vote, the little things count. And, in an election as close as the polls say this one is, little things are all that’s left.