The news today that retired general and former Secretary of State Colin Powell had endorsed Barack Obama must have sent shivers up the spine of John McCain's beleaguered campaign manager Rick Davis, who has crafted a two-week assault on Obama's character and patriotism in the remaining days of the 2008 presidential election.
"Senator Obama has demonstrated the kind of calm, patient, intellectual, steady approach to problem-solving that I think we need in this country," said Powell, one of the most respected figures in recent U.S. history, and certainly in the Republican Party. "His election would electrify the world."
"I come to the conclusion that because of Obama's ability to inspire," Powell added, "because of the inclusive nature of his campaign, because he is reaching out all across America, because of who he is and his rhetorical abilities--and you have to take that into account --as well as his substance--he has both style and substance. He has met the standard of being a successful president, being an exceptional president."
He also called Obama "a transformational figure."
Transformational. The word has a certain bipartisan gravitas coming from the likes of Powell, who served with distinction in the Republican administrations of Ronald Reagan and both Bushes.
But Powell's endorsement of Obama has apparently driven conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh apoplectic, if not downright over the edge.
Almost immediately, the bombastic Limbaugh fired off an email that bristled with an overt racism. "Secretary Powell says his endorsement is not about race," Limbaugh wrote. "OK, fine. I am now researching his past endorsements to see if I can find all the inexperienced, very liberal, white candidates he has endorsed. I'll let you know what I come up with."
Say what? In fact, Powell never once mentioned race in reasons for his decision. Never came close to referencing it. The only person who brought up race in the discussion is Rush Limbaugh. But then again, truth has never been his strong suit.
In fact, only last year, Powell had sent McCain the maximum $2,300 campaign contribution--at a time when Limbaugh was still bashing the Arizona Senator. Why would Limbaugh now suggest that Powell's endorsement had only to do with race? His reasoning is as despicable as it is disingenuous. And the underlying weltanschauung that would prompt such questioning is downright chilling.
But playing the race card wasn't enough for Limbaugh. He also played the betrayal card, too.
"I was also unaware of [Powell's] dislike for John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy and Antonin Scalia," Limbaugh noted, giving voice to Republican fears of losing a majority on the Supreme Court. "I guess he also regrets Reagan and Bush making him a four-star and secretary of state and appointing his son to head the FCC. Yes, let's hear it for transformational figures."
Limbaugh's wrath and bitterness apparently know no bounds. Just ask John McCain. If ever there were a disloyal figure in American politics, it is Rush Limbaugh.
In February he had this to say about McCain: "He's just playing the American card or the patriot card, the prisoner of war story or whatever, and that happens to appeal to some people... Senator McCain successfully targeted the weak, the mushy, the squishy, the Jell-Os, some of the left, the Drive-By Media...Here's the dirty little secret. The maverick is not a maverick... Maverick my rear end."
He also said that McCain had no political philosophy and that he was "an opponent of conservativism." Now that McCain has pandered to the conservative base of the Republican Party in recent months, Limbaugh is all over him like white on rice.
And Colin Powell--decorated American war hero--is a traitor.
To endorse Obama, Powell not only had to break with his party, he also had to break with McCain, a friend of 25 years, and like Powell, a decorated Vietnam War veteran. It could not have been an easy decision. But his reasoning was both tempered and well-thought out. And he expressed concerns over both the substance and tenor of the Republican campaign.
In both his prepared comments and his press conference afterwards, Powell even went so far as to question the appropriateness of the McCain-Palin camp linking Obama to '60s radical Bill Ayers.
"Mr. McCain says that he's a 'washed up terrorist,' but then why do we keep talking about him?" Powell asked rhetorically. "And why do we have the robocalls going on around the country trying to suggest that because of this very, very limited relationship that Senator Obama has had with Mr. Ayers, somehow Mr. Obama is tainted. What they're trying to connect him to is some kind of terrorist feelings. And I think that's inappropriate....I think this goes too far, and I think it has made the McCain campaign look a little narrow. It's not what the American people are looking for."
Powell also had the audacity to attack Limbaugh's conservative darling, Sarah Palin. "Now that we have had a chance to watch her for some seven weeks," Powell observed, "I don't believe she's ready to be president of the United States, which is the job of the vice president. And so that raised some question in my mind as to the judgment that Senator McCain made."
What does any of this reasoning have to do with race?
Not a damn thing. Limbaugh should be ashamed of himself--but he is obviously a man who knows no shame. This the same American icon who has called Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa "a shoeshine guy" and who was forced to resign from ESPN following his racist comments about black quarterback Donovan McNabb. The same Limbaugh who told an African American caller to his talk show to "take that bone out of your nose and call me back."
So much for Limbaugh's credibility on the issue of race.
What Powell's endorsement will do is diffuse any efforts by the Republicans to drag Obama through the mud in the final days of the campaign. And it will help to shed a light on that truly disturbing wing of the Republican Party that insists on portraying Obama as a domestic terrorist and/or a Muslim radical.
"[Obama] is not a Muslim," Powell noted. "He's a Christian. He's always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America."
But that is the America of Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin, and sadly, in the waning days of this election, also John McCain.
It is a racist America, an intolerant America, a starkly divided America, and, I would argue, an un-patriotic America.
It has never been an America in which Colin Powell has felt comfortable. Indeed, Powell's popularity over the past two decades has been extraordinary--ranging in the high 70's to the low 80's. His popularity transcends party politics and it transcends race. Indeed, he considered a run in the 2000 presidential election himself.
But Powell has never liked the flying-elbows of American politics. In the end, he decided to stay out of the fray.
Powell struck a strong and powerful blow against the failed politics of his former Republican cronies. Was it a game changer? As Sarah Palin would say, you betcha. If nothing else, the news cycle on the penultimate weekend of the campaign goes to Obama. He reached right over the aisle and plucked the most significant endorsement of the election.
And Rush Limbaugh? His response will be just another forgotten piece of garbage on the racist ash-heap of American history. In the waning days of this election, someone had better tell him to stay away from his medicine cabinet.