“Colin Powell Advising Barack Obama”

By Guest Columnist Jun 11, 2007

(Photo Credit) Sure it’s wise for presidential hopeful Barack Obama to meet with the Colin Powell, the controversial, former high-ranking official who many whites believed would be America’s first Black male president. Any future president should know what the heck the man who made the false case for war in Iraq was thinking. But what does Obama and Powell meeting say about race? Too Sense may have some answers. He writes on his blog:

According to a recent interview on Meet The Press, Colin Powell has met with Barack Obama at least twice to discuss foreign policy.

"I’m going to support the best person that I can find who will lead this country for the eight years beginning in January of 2009," Powell said. Powell was secretary of state under President Bush and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman for the first President Bush. Powell said he has met twice with Obama, the Illinois senator. "I’ve been around this town a long time and I know everybody who is running for office. And I make myself available to talk about foreign policy matters and military matters with whoever wishes to chat with me," Powell said. Powell said he does not want to serve in elected office but was less certain about a return to some government post. "I would not rule it out. I am not at all interested in political life if you mean elected political life. That is unchanged. But I always keep my eyes open and my ears open to requests for service," he said.

Powell may be counting his chickens before they’re hatched, but it his eagerness to emphasize how willing he would be to work in another administration suggests that he is deeply affected by the way his last position turned out. But consider that while most of the country was willing to give Bush a second chance in 2004, Powell had already decided to leave. The problem is that as impressive as Colin Powell might be as an individual, it is difficult to forgive him for using the considerable personal credibility he once had among people of all political stripes to bolster the Bush Administration’s case for war in Iraq, especially given that the Administration violated the doctrine that bears his name in their preparations for war. His speech to the U.N. didn’t just damage his credibility, but that of the entire country for years to come. That is a hard mistake to forgive, or even from the standpoint of a possible employer, to ignore were one considering him for a position. It was a serious error in judgment and in ethics. Reading about this, it is hard for me not to remember Toure’s 2004 piece for Suede, called "Ships Passing In The Night".

One day we will elect a black president. But I fear, nay, expect it will not be the glorious moment we want it to be. Convincing millions of white Americans, especially red-state white Americans) to vote for a Black candidate will require he or she convince voters they will not give special privileges, benefits, or attention to Black people. If that social contract is not made clear–if white Americans suspect they’re voting for a Black president, instead of a president–the candidate won’t stand a chance. Anyone who can make that social contract with white America will have Black America deeply conflicted, the way we are about Clarence Thomas and Condoleeza Rice, proud of their achievements, but cringing about their politics, their clunky personas, the lame way they inhabit the public stage. We are undermoved (as in, not completely unmoved, but moved less than we would’ve liked) by them. Colin always had a sense of cool about him, and Barack seems to have that same post-Black cool. But the Black man who slides into the White House will not have Black America dancing in the streets. He’ll have us undermoved.

It’s hard to describe my feeling at hearing that Powell and Obama are meeting. A part of me is ecstatic that two black men have reached the level in society where their meeting is simply a matter of policy, not race; were Colin Powell and Barack Obama both white they would still be discussing foreign policy, and it would still be a big deal. But the fact that both of them are black, and both of them have achieved a measure of success, [makes it so] their meeting is not a matter of racial solidarity, but of practicality; one is running for president, the other is one of the world’s foremost experts on foreign policy and military matters and needs a job. And yet, my excitement is tempered by the enormity of Powell’s past mistakes, and his failure to adequately acknowledge his role in one of the worst foreign policy disasters in American history. The meeting can only be good for Obama, while it is likely to enrage many on the base, it is just as likely to comfort them for the same reasons it will comfort whites on the center or right. Peter Beinart noted a while ago:

Like the employers in Red Hook, whites discriminated in Powell’s favor because he challenged their negative stereotypes of blacks. First, he had succeeded in a respected white institution: the military. Second, he was the child of immigrants, a man whose family history highlighted America’s opportunities, not its racism. Third, he wasn’t ideologically radical. And, fourth, he didn’t look or sound stereotypically black. No one was blunter about this than Powell himself. Asked in 1995 to explain his appeal to whites, he volunteered that "I speak reasonably well, like a white person," and, visually, "I ain’t that black."

Powell’s meeting with Obama is a brilliant political move. Obama’s association with another onetime potential black president, a black man who white America has found so nonthreatening that he was held up as a model for "the rest of us" can only increase his appeal among those who fear Obama would be, as Toure described, "a black president". So I guess you could say that I am undermoved.