Commenter Steve writes:
Let me suggest an empirical argument for race being the primary motivation for Powell's endorsement. Powell belongs to a class of Republican - moderate, pro-choice, reality-based, etc. - that though a minority within the party, still comprises a large proportion of its current and former governing elite. I would bet my bottom dollar that in the privacy of the voting booth, a significant majority of these, especially the older cadre, will be pulling the lever for Obama.
This stipulated, the question is begged: who else of Powell's cohort, of similar or somewhat lesser stature, has gone public with his or her preferences for Obama? I can think of none.
Perhaps I am not properly appreciating the number of ex-military endorsements, and Powell's can be understood in such terms. But in civilian terms, his outspokenness, given his "rank" seems essentially singular. And the economical interpretation is that race was at the forefront of his considerations.
I mean no disrespect to Steve, by what follows. He certainly didn't ask for a billboard. Still, I think this sort of thinking has to be interrogated and challenged. Steve argues that very few--if any--moderate Republicans have supported Obama and, thus eliminating ideology, race must be the primary factor for the Powell endorsement. There are two problems--one very obvious to folks who've been following the internal conservative debates, and a second more basic one.
Let's go with the obvious problem first--Steve's facts are wrong. He defines Powell's cohort as "moderate, pro-choice and reality based" and then asks, "who else of Powell's cohort, of similar or somewhat lesser stature, has gone public with his or her preferences for Obama? I can think of none." Well I can think of plenty.
But let's assume that my facts are backwards, and go forth. It does not follow that, even if you eliminate ideology as a factor, that race is the only reason to support Barack Obama. Indeed, there are an infinite number of other reasons, flimsy and otherwise, why Powell could have made his choice. He may respect the fact that they're both the children of immigrants. He may have been particularly touched by Obama's memoir. He may like Obama's Ivy-League background. He may simply like his haircut. We don't know, because we aren't in his head.
There is something else--Barack Obama isn''t the first black person to run for president. Did Powell endorse Al Sharpton? Did he endorse Jesse Jackson? Did he even endorse fellow conservative Allan Keys? Did he endorse Doug Wilder? Did he endorse Carol Moseley Braun? If you are arguing that race is the primary reason, you have to explain why Powell didn't support any other black candidates for president--some from within his own party. And this doesn't just apply simply to Powell, but to all black people. Anyone who claims that blacks are simply voting for Obama because he's black must grapple with the fact that, in 2004, both John Kerry and John Edwards destroyed Al Sharpton among black voters in South Carolina, while Barack Obama did the opposite. If black people--and Powell--are blindly supporting the black guy, what explains the paltry support for all the other black guys?
Again, conservatives frequently argue for a high-bar for branding someone a racist. But this evidently only applies to white people. Think on it--If you say the "primary" reason Powell is supporting Obama is race, then the corollary must be that the "primary" reason Powell isn't supporting McCain is race--an unquestionably racist act. That is, to accuse Powell of supporting Obama primarily because he's black, is to accuse Powell of racism. So what we have here is a double standard. Deploy the high bar for people spreading Muslim smears and peddling Obama-bucks, but then abandon all skepticism when it comes to a four-star general.
Again, I don't mean to go off on Steve, but this argument has struck me for a particular reason. This is about racism at its most insidious, a mind-eating, inability to see Colin Powell--a man who's led a quintessentially American life--as anything more than a nigger sticking with another nigger. I deploy such ill language with intent here--it connotes the lack of humanity, the brainless zombiefication, the slow-wittedness that so many conservatives mindlessly apply to black people. They are not alone, or even special--it's human to dehumanize. But it's still a pox on all our houses, and frankly, I blog for a day, when it will be less so.