For this year's F. Scott Fitzgerald "There Are No Second Acts In American Life Award," I nominate. . . Colin Powell!!
Powell, of course, endorsed Barack Obama for president a few days ago. Rumors had been swirling as long ago as February that Powell would make this endorsement - now that Obama is up by double-digits in some major polls, I guess the former general felt the time was finally right to shock and awe us with his official blessing.
I'm delighted that Obama has received this endorsement, and I hope it has some effect on people's perceptions of Obama's foreign and military policy cred. Perhaps it might even prompt the press to notice that John McShame served as Enabler-in-Chief in the Senate for the Bush foreign policy, arguably the most disastrous in American history. I suspect, though, it won't matter much beyond the Sunday morning network bloviators.
But we should be clear: this endorsement is not so much about Obama as it is about Powell trying to rehabilitate himself -- re-positioning himself for some sort of second act, after the self-imposed exile he has been in since the debacle of his career in the Bush White House. This endorsement marks Powell's official re-entry into American political life.
Powell had his moment. Several of them, in fact, when his opinion might have mattered, might have made an important difference. Let's review: After stealing the 2000 election, Bush chose Powell to be his Secretary of State. Powell was universally respected and admired. His choice served, more than any other cabinet appointment, to give legitimacy to an otherwise illegitimate administration. Powell could have said "no" to being used in this way, but he didn't.
Then Powell allowed himself to be used again when he gave that now-infamous speech to the United Nations justifying the invasion of Iraq. Once it became clear just how badly he had been used, Powell said nothing. He might have resigned before the 2004 election; indeed, he might have endorsed John Kerry exactly four years ago. Either act might have changed the outcome four years ago. But Powell said nothing. Hell! He even could have challenged Bush in the Republican primary in 2004, which would have left him as the odds-on favorite this year. Instead, channeling his inner Hamlet, he skulked quietly out of power, and did not even have the courage to join the chorus of critics of the war.
Who knows whether Powell's authoritative voice could have helped changed the direction of policy over the last 4-5 years? We do know what happened without that voice, however, and Powell stands guilty of silence when silence was unacceptable. The pattern repeats itself even with this endorsement. If Powell's benediction matters at all, it would have mattered a lot more in August or September, not two weeks before the election. Imagine what impact it would have had if it had come in Denver?
Like Robert McNamara a generation ago, Powell wants us to forgive him the dreadful mistakes he made without ever really having to admit that he made them. By jumping on the Obama band-wagon so late in the game, Powell hopes that he can resume the role of elder-statesman he seemed destined to play before he let his loyalty to the Bush family supercede his loyalty to the nation, leaving him in utter disgrace.