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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

a different form of political reasoning « Previous | |Next »
October 20, 2008

Colin Powell's endorsement of Barack Obama on Meet the Press was based on a form of public political reasoning that addresses issues not personalities, and engages in analysis not demonization. It is also a thoroughgoing critique of McCain's more or less issue-free, fear-mongering campaign, and a rejection of the politics of scapegoating and bullying of ethnic minorities that have defined the Bush years.

He explicitly rejects the Rudi Giuliani and Mitt Romney line that appeals to anti-Muslim bigotry to garner votes for Republicans by saying that while of course Obama isn't a Muslim, there would be nothing wrong if he was.Powell says:

Well, the correct answer is: he is not a Muslim. 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 is: No, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some 7-year-old Muslim-American kid believing he or she can be president?"

Powell called Obama "a transformational figure," praised him for his "inclusive" campaign, his "intellectual curiosity" and his leadership.The right wing isn't going to be too happy about Powell's endorsement of Barack Obama.

Is this Powell's redemptive moment for the role he played in selling the Iraq war?

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 6:39 PM | | Comments (14)


Funny, today on SBS they were doing the repeat of the Frontline doco on the neo con invasion of Iraq.
Given what happened four or so years ago, it's not possible to go beyond a conclusion of a long awaited, satisfying revenge and repudiation by/for Colin Powell on and over his tormenters and betrayers in the Bush administration.
The realist outsider, he was lied to and set up as patsy, and would clearly like finally to disassociate himself from Cheney, Rumsfeldt, Bush and the other neos responsible for the mayhemic outcome of hubris and greed.

On the same day we learn that the Obama campaign keeps breaking donations records and Palin objects to her own campaign's robocalls after complaints from parents.


I don't quite agree. Powell's analysis of Obama and McCain on MTP compared their character and judgment, and talked about values like inclusiveness. Powell barely mentioned policy at all.

I've just been reading the Meet the Press transcript. Powell does raise issues that the US needs to address in the future--eg.,

I think the American people and the gentlemen running for president will have to, early on, focus on education more than we have seen in the campaign so far. America has a terrible educational problem in the sense that we have too many youngsters not finishing school. A third of our kids don't finish high school, 50 percent of minorities don't finish high school. We've got to work on this, and my, my wife and I are leading a campaign with this purpose.

Also, I think, the new president has to realize that the world looks to America for leadership, and so we have to show leadership on some issues that the world is expecting us to, whether it's energy, global warming and the environment. And I think we have to do a lot more with respect to poverty alleviation and helping the needy people of the world. We need to increase the amount of resources we put into our development programs to help the rest of the world. Because when you help the poorest in the world, you start to move them up an economic and social ladder, and they're not going to be moving toward violence or terrorism of the kind that we worry about.

No personalities there.

you are right about Powell's emphasis on character. In the transcript. Powell does raise character:

I know both of these individuals very well now. I've known John for 25 years as your setup said. And I've gotten to know Mr. Obama quite well over the past two years. Both of them are distinguished Americans who are patriotic, who are dedicated to the welfare of our country. Either one of them, I think, would be a good president. I have said to Mr. McCain that I admire all he has done.

But he goes on to evaluate McCain in terms of his inadequate policy response to the finnacial crisis:
I have especially watched over the last six of seven weeks as both of them have really taken a final exam with respect to this economic crisis that we are in and coming out of the conventions. And I must say that I've gotten a good measure of both. In the case of Mr. McCain, I found that he was a little unsure as to deal with the economic problems that we were having and almost every day there was a different approach to the problem. And that concerned me, sensing that he didn't that he didn't have a complete grasp of the economic problems that we had.

No demonization of McCain there.

I'm having trouble spotting where Gary mentioned policy, unless 'issues not personalities' is taken to mean issues (policies).

It's good to see American leaders talking about global leadership in terms like those in the second paragraph Nan quotes

"so we have to show leadership on some issues that the world is expecting us to, whether it's energy, global warming and the environment."

Global leadership can be achieved through means other than walloping other people. Is it safe to assume this is the real Powell speaking this time?

If global opinion surveys are any indication, US leadership would get a significant boost with an Obama win regardless of foreign policy.

One of the things I've found quite depressing during this campaign is the sorry state of towns and cities in the background of the footage we've seen taken in red states. You can see what Joe Bageant was on about, talking about people voting against their own best interests. Not that Democrats could have prevented manufacturing from going overseas, but a lot of those people would benefit enormously from a bit of wealth redistribution and a bit less cultural hysteria.

Nan, I based my comment on a shorter, seven-minute clip and had not read the transcript, so thanks for alerting me to it. The clip I saw (which is Powell's full answer to the first question aout who he plans to endorse) focused on character, values, judgment and intellectual capacity, rather than policy. As your extracts show, policy is clearly a consideration for Powell, but it's telling that he focused on these other things first.

To Peter, I did not mean to suggest Powell was demonising McCain. In fact, I think it is quite proper for Powell to make a judgment of the two candidates based on their personalities as much as their policies.

To Lyn, I took Gary's reference to 'issues' as a synonym for policy.

the transcript is what we need to work from as it is several pages long. In it Powell is offering reasons for why he did hold to particular positions. Thus on Iraq

MR. BROKAW: Removing the weapons of mass destruction from the equation, because we now know that they did not exist, was it then a war of necessity or just a war of choice?

GEN. POWELL: Without the weapons of mass destruction present, as conveyed to us by the intelligence community in the most powerful way, I don't think there would have been a war. It was the reason we took it to the public, it was the reason we took it to the American people to the Congress, who supported it on that basis, and it's the presentation I made to the United Nations. Without those weapons of mass destruction then Iraq did not present to the world the kind of threat that it did if it had weapons of mass destruction.

This is a public reason that works by weighing up the evidence and working in terms of arguments.

the policies are there. They have to be dug out by putting them back into their context.

Powell is talking about the future of America and he makes some indications as the best way to do make the future better, both domestically and in terms of the world of nations.

Instead of McCain's tax cuts --traditional Republican policy that is coupled with budget cuts to welfare to pay for the tax cuts---Powell is saying invest in eduction. Big policy move there given his background of being a part of the Bush /Cheney administration

In terms of the foreign policy in the world of nations Powell is saying invest in development programs to help address the
terrorism issue. So he is offering a different policy re US leadership to the neo-con of war and preemptive strike.

Is he referring to Afghanistan I wonder? Pity he wasn't asked. Afghanistan floats through the transcript so I presume that his remarks are made in relation to it.

I wasn't implying that you were suggesting that suggest Powell was demonising McCain. I was working from Gary's post where he set up the duality of public political reasoning that addresses issues not personalities, and engages in analysis not demonization.

I agree that character, values, judgment and intellectual capacity are important for Powell given his emphasis on the importance of leadership and making decisions The president will also have to make decisions quickly as to how to deal with Iraq and Afghanistan; to reach out to the world and working with the US's friends and allies.

Let me try to restate my orginal point, which I made very hurriedly and poorly the first time.

I was reacting to Gary's opening statement that Powell had come to his endorsement decision 'on a form of public political reasoning that addresses issues not personalities'.

What I was trying to convey was that, in fact, considerations of personality were central to Powell's decision.

This seems to me quite a proper way to reach such a decision, since personality or character may be an equally (or more) important determinant of performance for a potential president than policy positions.

Where I agree with Gary is that I think Powell gave very good reasons for coming to his decision, and he made strong arguments in favour of it. He analysed rather than demonised.

But to sum up, I think the division between issues and personalities is the wrong one. Both are legitimate considerations for a voter.

It was a good move by Powell. He finally threw his hat in the ring. Associating with change he washes his past.

I would call that the best political maneuver of the whole campaign

I understand now. It's a good point. I concur with you that:

The division between issues and personalities is the wrong one. Both are legitimate considerations for a voter.

I used the wrong word re personality. I should have said soemthing along the lines of played the ball not the man, but I could not think of the right word.

Character is a legitimate political issue as it were. I would add that Powell gave reasons for his judgments about character and these reasons were persuasive enough to weigh them up and consider them. This is a long way from the dog whistle style of political rhetoric about character practised by Karl Rove.

I agree. However some conservatives are saying that race motivated Colin Powell to endorse Barack Obama. I thought that conservatives denied the relevance of race?