Former Secretary of State Colin Powell endorsed President Barack Obama for re-election this morning, crossing party lines — and setting off an ugly reaction from the right wing.
Powell, a retired four-star general who served as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the George H.W. Bush administration before becoming George W. Bush’s top diplomat, told CBS’s “This Morning” that “I voted for [Obama] in 2008, and I plan to stick with him in 2012. I’ll be voting for he [sic] and for Vice President Joe Biden next month.”
Powell credited President Obama for stabilizing the financial system, ending the war in Iraq, and beginning to end the war in Afghanistan. By contrast, Powell criticized Romney’s economic plans and expressed concern that Romney is a “moving target” on foreign policy.
“The governor who was speaking on Monday night at the debate was saying things that were quite different from what he said earlier,” Powell said. “So I’m not quite sure which Governor Romney we would be getting in terms of foreign policy.”
“Sometimes I don’t sense that he has thought through these issues as thoroughly as he should have,” Powell added. “And he gets advice from his campaign staff that he then has to adjust and modify as he goes along.”
Predictably, many on the right could not accept that Powell — who maintains that he is still a Republican despite endorsing both of Obama’s presidential runs — could have serious policy reasons for supporting the president. Instead, the fringe came up with the same answer that they embrace to explain almost every Obama-related event: it’s all about race.
A brief scan of right wing message boards and media figures reveals the ugly strain of racism that lurks barely beneath the surface of many hyper-partisan criticisms of the president. Note that no Caucasian is ever labeled as a racist for endorsing a white candidate.
Some mainstream Republicans were also critical of Powell’s endorsement. Arizona Senator John McCain went on Brian Kilmeade’s radio show this morning and slammed Powell’s decision, saying “General Powell, you disappoint us and you have harmed your legacy even further by defending what is clearly the most feckless foreign policy in my lifetime.”
This is an especially interesting critique, given that Powell is the man who stood before the United Nations in 2003 and made the disastrously faulty case for an invasion of Iraq. Powell considers the incident to be a “blot” on his record that will always be “painful” to him. If anyone would understand the value of restraint — which McCain and his colleagues in the Republican foreign policy establishment tend to consider “feckless” — it would be a man like Powell, who has seen firsthand what type of damage Romney and his foreign policy team can do.
UPDATE: On Thursday night Romney campaign co-chair John Sununu explained Powell’s endorsement by saying “Well, I think when you have somebody of your own race that you’re proud of being president of the United States, I applaud Colin for standing with him.”
This is latest in a long string of racially charged statements from Sununu throughout the campaign.