Published in The Daily Star, October 25, 2008
The endorsement was made all the more shocking for the Arizona Senator by the carefully chosen words in the endorsement. It was widely known that General Powell would be endorsing either of the candidates as he had met both in June and said that his endorsement would come after the conventions and the presidential debates. In NBC's popular programme “Meet the Press” last Sunday, where he endorsed Senator Barak Obama, General Powell described him as a “transformational figure” who has “displayed steadiness,” showed “intellectual vigour “and “has a definitive way of doing business that will do us well." He also cited Obama's “ability to inspire”, the “inclusive nature of his campaign”, his attempts to reach out all across America and “because of who he is and his rhetorical abilities” as additional reasons for endorsing the candidate of the Senator from Chicago.
The superlatives that the General used to describe Senator Obama gave significant impetus to a campaign that needed it as the election for the White House entered the final lap with just a fortnight left for the election on November 4th. There was extra mileage too from the endorsement that came in the meeting that Powell had with reporters immediately after taping his “Meet the Press “programme. In that meeting, Colin Powell told reporters that he was very disappointed at the attempts of the McCain campaign to link Obama to William Ayers, a 1960s radical and domestic terrorist. In automated calls to voters in swing states, the McCain campaign said that “Obama worked closely with domestic terrorist Ayers” in an attempt to put the thought in voters' minds that Obama is “palling around with terrorists” as publicly suggested by Senator McCain's running mate Sarah Palin. Obama worked with Ayers in the Annenberg Challenge Project and Woods Fund, a Chicago charity, but independent investigations have found no evidence of a deep and strong relationship. Colin Powell thought that the attempt to link Obama to Ayers to label him as a radical “was over the top” and “was beyond just good political fighting back and forth.” The General also expressed disgust at the attempt to use Obama's Muslim middle name to create suspicion in people's minds.
The Democrats are excited with the endorsement of Colin Powel for a number of reasons. Colin Powell is as an elder statesman across the political divide of his country. A former Joint Chiefs of Staff during the first Gulf War, Colin Powell became the Secretary of State in the first Bush administration. General Powell was once widely considered as most likely to become the first black President of the USA but his association to the Bush administration came in the way of that possibility but still did not tarnish his image as an honest and powerful leader and a visionary. The fact that he crossed party line to endorse Senator Obama made his endorsement that much more potent.
There are a few more damaging elements of the Colin endorsement for the McCain camp. It has exposed a serious rift within the Republicans - one between the pragmatists and the neo-conservatives. The pragmatists among the Republicans have viewed Iraq war and the execution of it a mistake. Colin Powell is among these pragmatists. According to close friends of the General, he has been disturbed to observe people in the McCain camp with deep ties to the neo-conservatives, people like Randy Scheunemann who is currently a key foreign policy adviser to the Senator from Alaska. Randy Scheunemann was earlier foreign policy adviser to Senator Trent Loft and Senator Dole, both with deep ties to the neo-conservatives. In addition, Randy Scheunemann was the founder of the hawkish Liberation of Iraq and a supporter of Chalabi, a Pentagon favourite during the beginning of the Iraq War and a Pentagon favourite but deeply detestable at the State Department when Powell was the Secretary there.
The impact of the endorsement on the election is being discussed everywhere in the USA now. The feedback coming out is depressing for the McCain camp. Analysts soft to the Obama candidature are calling it a bombshell, a nail in the coffin, a development that could seal the deal and the presidency. As it became evident that General Powell would endorse Obama, sources close to President Bush have said that the President himself called the General to request him not to make the endorsement knowing how damaging it would be to the McCain candidature. Those in the McCain camp, in an effort to downplay the damage, are saying that Powell is a discredited political figure for the part he played in the Iraq War and this endorsement is his way of hitting back.
On balance, though, this endorsement by Colin Powell has come for McCain at a very bad time. The general mood among most Americans is that the Republicans led by President Bush are responsible for USA's current economic plight; that the Iraq war contributed more than its share to this economic downturn and that backing the McCain-Palin ticket would mean encouraging those who should be punished. Colin Powell brought home this point in his endorsement succinctly when he said that Obama has “fresh set of eyes” and “fresh set of ideas” and although Senator McCain is gifted, he is in the end going to execute the orthodoxy of the Republican agenda with a maverick face which is not enough for America. USA needs much more than that and Obama is the one who can do that.
The Powell endorsement and the words he used to give this endorsement to Obama have articulated the shortcomings of the McCain campaign in a manner that even the Obama Camp could not have done. First, General Powell has spelt out clearly and effectively that McCain is no different from President Bush despite his attempts to distance himself from President Bush. Second, he has underscored the fact that Senator McCain is also under the influence of the neo-conservatives who are responsible for the state of the economy and the Iraq War. Third, the former Secretary of State has exposed the negative campaign to link Obama with Ayers to suggest that he has links with terrorists as disgusting and detestable. Fourth, he has effectively explained in his endorsement the mistake of the McCain camp to include Governor Palin while underscoring the value of inclusion of Senator Biden as Obama's running mate. Finally, he has articulated the strengths of Senator Obama as a man of destiny who has the qualities and the vision to lead USA out of its current economic and political quagmire into which the country has fallen as a consequence of the failed leadership of President Bush and his neo-conservatives aides.
Coming from a Republican of the stature of Colin Powell, this endorsement in the ultimate analysis could prove to be the catalyst to help undecided voters make up their minds in favour of Senator Obama. As one analyst has written: “He's (meaning Powell) a Republican. He's a military man. He's backed both Bushes. And he has even donated money to McCain. That is why Powell's endorsement is so powerful.” Senator McCain has already acknowledged that he is now the underdog. It is now up to the Obama camp to hold on to the great momentum that the Powell endorsement has given the Obama-Biden ticket and keep McCain where he lies at the moment. The Powell endorsement may also have taken the Bradley effect that suggests that on voting day white voters, who have earlier told pollsters that they would vote for a black candidate, may ultimately vote for a white candidate instead, out of the equation, thus easing the road of Senator Obama to the White House.