October 21, 2008
The endorsement of Barack Obama by former Secretary of State Colin Powell was not a big surprise, but it was a serious blow to the campaign of John McCain nonetheless. Secretary Powell is one of the most respected former Bush administration cabinet officials, and his opinion on the merits of war with Iraq carried a lot of weight as Congress deliberated on the matter in 2002 and early 2003. Appearing with Tom Brokaw on NBC's Meet The Press on Sunday, Powell began with a long, thoughtful preamble on the respective virtues of John McCain and Barack Obama, but it soon became clear which direction he was heading. Powell took sharp exception to the harsh practices and right-wing orientation of the Republican Party in recent years (an assessment that I fully share), and that factor seems to have been decisive in his decision to support Obama. It remains to be seen how much effect the Powell endorsement will have on voters. If McCain does lose, however, it will say a lot more about the state of the Republican Party these days than on the candidate himself.
With exactly two weeks to go, all of the national polls show that McCain is several percentage points (or more) behind Obama, but anything can happen between now and November 4. (I dearly hope and pray that Israel does not launch an "October surprise" attack on Iran prior to November 4, as that would be seen as a blatant attempt at manipulating American politics, besides being quite reckless.) The slightest gaffe on a sensitive issue by Obama could radically reshape the political landscape. As heard on a tape recording, Joe Biden recently warned his Democratic supporters that if elected, Obama will be confronted with a challenge from some foreign power in the early months of his presidency, just as Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev cconfronted President John F. Kennedy in Berlin and elsewhere in 1961. Perhaps contemplating such a global crisis with an untested rookie president at the helm will give many Americans second thoughts before they go into the voting booth.
Indeed, Obama has multiple vulnerabilities that have not been exposed to the general public as of yet, thanks in large measure to the mainstream media which keeps running puff-piece "news" items on the junior Illinois senator. (I think McCain and Palin put too much emphasis on Obama's association with 60s radical William Ayers, and the rhetoric about Obama's socialist agenda may not sway the large number of voters who have not been paying much attention to the details of Obama's policy proposals. Sadly, the election will probably come down to a war of images and words, rather than a rational choice between alternative future agendas.
McCain clearly waited too long before sharply disassociating himself from President Bush, probably because he prioritized maintaining good relations with the GOP "base." Some will recall that, in the wake of wrapping up the nomination last spring, he took pains to differentiate his position on various issues from the Bush administration. For example, he set forth an agenda for addressing global warming in May. Just acknowledging the possibility that it may be a serious problem is considered heresy by many on the Right these days.