I’ve often said and written that the views of former Secretary of State Colin Powell are dismissed at the political dismissers’ peril because he does represent the views of many moderates — polls show it, and when you talk to people who are moderates, centrists or independents his name frequently comes up. In fact, I’ve often said that Powell winds up saying what I’ve written or told friends. And here he goes again:
While continuing to identify as a Republican, former Secretary of State Colin Powell on Sunday criticized the GOP for a series of racist attacks against President Barack Obama.
“There’s also a dark vein of intolerance in some parts of the party,” Powell said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “What do I mean by that? What I mean by that is they still sort of look down on minorities.”
Powell, who endorsed Obama, pointed to a number of statements that were directed at Obama as evidence that there is still racism within the party.
“When I see a former governor say that the president is ‘shuckin’ and jivin’.’ That’s a racial-era slave term,” Powell said, referring to former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin using the term to describe Obama’s response to the attacks in Libya.
Powell also pointed to former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu, who was an aggressive surrogate for Mitt Romney, for calling Obama “lazy” after the first debate during the campaign.
“He didn’t say he was slow, he was tired, he didn’t do well; he said he was ‘lazy,’” Powell said “Now, it may not mean anything to most Americans, but to those of us who are African Americans, the second word is “shiftless,” and then there’s a third word that goes along with it.”
During the campaign this kind of polemics clearly turned off a lot of voters. It’s read meat to those who love demonizing talk shows or lash-out blog posts or blog comments. But it paints an image of the Republican Party that it needs to erase (or Etch A Sketch) fast. And then there are the birthers:
Powell also eschewed the “birther movement.”
“The whole birther movement: Why do senior Republican leaders tolerate this kind of discussion within the party?” Powell asked. “I think the party has to take a look at itself.”
Powell said overall the Republican Party has been moving to the right, creating problems for the GOP.
“In recent years, there’s been a significant shift to the right, and we have seen what that shift has produced: two losing presidential campaigns,” Powell said. “I think what the Republican Party needs to do now is take a very hard look at itself and understand that the country has changed. The country is changing demographically. And if the Republican Party does not change along with that demographic, they’re going to be in trouble.”
Powell said the Republican Party in addition to being the party of lower taxes, has become cast at the party of the rich. He said that Republicans need to take up education, immigration and climate change policy before the next election.
Powell, in fact, does articulate the voice of The Mighty Middle which both parties need if they’re going to win national elections and/or govern. Historian Gil Troy has written about it and, in his books and columns, so has CNN’s/The Daily Beast’s John Avlon. There is a large chunk of America that would vote Republican if they felt the party was a thoughtful party seeking ways to bring the country together and find solutions.
In his interview, Powell also defended former Senator Chuck Hagel on a day when Sunday shows have GOPers taking potshots at him:
Former secretary of state Colin Powell on Sunday defended former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel’s qualifications to be the next defense secretary, saying in a lengthy interview that he expects him to be confirmed.
“I think he gets confirmed,” Powell said on NBC News’s “Meet The Press.” I think he’s ultimately superbly qualified, based on his overall record, based on his service to the country, based on how he feels about troops and veterans and families. I think he will do a great job as secretary of defense.”
Powell, who endorsed Hagel the day President Obama announced his nomination, pushed back against concerns some senators have raised about Hagel’s record on Iraq, Iran and Israel.
“There are people who are very supportive of the state of Israel,” Powell said. “I’m very supportive of the state of Israel. So is Senator Hagel, and you’ll see that in the confirmation hearings, but it doesn’t mean you have to agree with every single position that the Israeli government takes.”
Powell also criticized what he saw as the Obama administration floating names — including Hagel’s — for cabinet positions in advance of the president announcing his official nominations. Such moves, Powell said, can do more harm than good to the potential nominees.
“In both the Susan Rice case and in the Chuck Hagel case, if they were sure that’s who they were going to nominate, I think it should have been done promptly. But all of these sort of test nominations that they send out there I think just cause the media to naturally focus on it, and potential opponents of that nomination just pile on,” Powell said.
Powell is a reliable barometer: his perception is one shared by many Americans — and a chunk of more traditional Republicans and former Republicans who are now independents. They’be more likely to seriously consider the pitch of a party like the one Powell outlines than a party that all too often seems to be setting its tone to sound like professional polarizer Rush Limbaugh, rip-n-read party liner Sean Hannity or Mark It Takes One To Know One Levin.