Monday, October 20, 2008

The Powell Endorsement

"I watched (Obama) during this seven-week period. And he displayed a steadiness, an intellectual curiosity, a depth of knowledge and an approach to looking at problems like this and picking a vice president that, I think, is ready to be president on day one. And also, in not just jumping in and changing every day, but showing intellectual vigor. I think that he has a, a definitive way of doing business that would serve us well. I also believe that on the Republican side over the last seven weeks, the approach of the Republican Party and Mr. McCain has become narrower and narrower. Mr. Obama, at the same time, has given us a more inclusive, broader reach into the needs and aspirations of our people. He's crossing lines--ethnic lines, racial lines, generational lines. He's thinking about all villages have values, all towns have values, not just small towns have values.

And I've also been disappointed, frankly, by some of the approaches that Senator McCain has taken recently, or his campaign ads, on issues that are not really central to the problems that the American people are worried about. This Bill Ayers situation that's been going on for weeks became something of a central point of the campaign. But Mr. McCain says that he's a washed-out terrorist. Well, then, why do we keep talking about him? And why do we have these 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."

First Read reports on the Powell endorsement:

One of the consequences of Powell’s endorsement was to launch the first
shot in the battle for the soul of the Republican Party. The Wall Street Journal gets into this a bit. "The endorsement comes after a series of events that have pointed to the fraying of a Republican umbrella that has relied in the past on both moderates and conservatives to bulk up its governing majority. Late last week, conservative radio talk-show host Michael Smerconish endorsed Sen. Obama, as did conservative columnist Christopher Buckley, the son of National Review founder William F. Buckley. The Chicago Tribune endorsed Sen. Obama last week, the first time the paper has endorsed a Democrat in its 161-year history.”

Powell also took issue yesterday with McCain's efforts to draw a parallel between Obama's economic policies and those of Socialist leaders in Europe, NBC's Ashley Codianni reports. Speaking to reporters outside NBC's studios after his Meet the Press appearance, Powell defended Obama's tax agenda and called Republican efforts to tie the Democratic nominee to leftist economics "unfortunate."

"Mr. Obama is now a socialist," Powell remarked ironically, "because he dares to suggest that maybe we ought to look at the tax structure that we have." Asked yesterday on FOX whether Obama can be characterized as a socialist, McCain quoted Obama's promise to "spread the wealth around," calling that phrase "one of the tenets of socialism." Powell, though, disagreed. "Taxes are always a redistribution of money," he said yesterday. "Most of the taxes that are redistributed go back to those who pay it, in roads, and airports, and hospitals and schools. Taxes are necessary for the common good."

The Fix offers some reasons why the Powell endorsement could matter:

1. Turnabout is Fair Play. Powell is best known for his most recent job in government -- as the secretary of State for President George W. Bush. The idea that a high-ranking cabinet official in a Republican administration would come out for the Democrat is simply too juicy a story for the media to ignore. That it would be someone as high profile as Powell would only add to the titillation.

2. The Most Popular Man in America? Powell, unlike almost no other official with ties to the Bush Administration, has retained remarkable popularity ratings. In an August Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll, more than three-quarters (76 percent) of voters viewed Powell favorably while just 13 percent saw him in an unfavorable light. A large part of Powell's appeal is his perceived bipartisanship -- a direct result of his decision to repeatedly turn down overtures to run for president in his own right. For a certain (not insubstantial) portion of the electorate, when Powell speaks, they listen. The Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll reinforces that fact; more than one in three voters said a Powell endorsement of Obama would make them more likely to vote for the Democrat.

3. Iraq, All Wrong. Powell, thanks to his immense popularity, was the Bush Administration's choice to make the case in front of the United Nations for the invasion of Iraq. Powell has since called that incident a "blot" on his record, and made clear his disappointment with the prosecution of the war. An endorsement of Obama, who built his candidacy on his early opposition to the conflict, would mark a clean break with the Bush Administration on the war and would add significant heft to Obama's argument that he alone possesses the judgment to lead the U.S. in a dangerous world.

4. The Final Straw. With polling -- both in the key battleground states and nationally -- showing that voters trust Obama more than John McCain to handle the current economic morass, one of McCain's last hopes is that the the election turns back somehow to a foreign policy focus. If Powell does endorse Obama, it would shore up the Illinois senator even if that eventuality occurred; it would be hard for McCain to slam Obama's approach on the war if the Democrat had a Powell endorsement sitting in his back pocket.

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