A young warrior fresh from the front
Why the Republicans are howling
As I listen to the rising decibel level of Republican yelps after Colin Powell’s comments on Meet The Press last Sunday, I am once again reminded of the profundity of my granddaddy George’s wisdom; the kind of wisdom that comes from sharp observation of the ways of mules and men over many years. “Boy” he said “If you throw stones in a pack of jackals only the ones who get hit will howl.”
Well, judging from the impassioned response from card carrying Republicans to a few remarks about the state of the Grand Obstructionist Party made by Colin Powell, a Republican icon, lots of people felt smacked down!
The intensity of the Republican response demonstrates the truth of Mr. Powell’s remarks. And, ironically, he is speaking frankly to his fellow Republicans in an effort to stop them from committing political suicide. Composed of soulless opportunists, clueless ignoramuses, unrepentant racists, obsequious black quislings and mindless right-wing ideologues, the Republican Party is dangerously out of touch with the expanding electorate and courting disaster.
Yet, even so, Republican responses to Mr. Powell’s comments are way over the top. Everything from his qualifications for the high offices he has held to his loyalty to the Republican Party has now being called into question, and there seems to be no epithet to down and dirty to heap upon him. He has been called everything but a child of God by his fellow Republicans!
To the objective observer it is obvious that all of this odious behavior is further evidence that the Republican Party is in a deep crisis that threatens to tear it apart. They are lost in a masquerade and cannot bear to gaze upon their true image unmasked in the mirror Colin is holding before their faces.
The Chariman of Joint Chiefs
There is no one in America with a more impressive record of service to this nation, whether in war or peace. At one time he was combat officer minted in the ROTC program at the Harlem campus of City College; a general officer who became Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; a National Security Advisor to the President of the United States, and Secretary of State; Colin Powell has held top offices in the military and civilian sectors. And he did it all as a Republican.
At the height of his prominence opinion polls showed that General Powell was the most trusted and respected man in public life. And it is fairly obvious after the experience of Barack Obama that he could have been President had he run for the office. I think he would have beaten George W. Bush for the Republican nomination and easily defeated Al Gore for the presidency. And like Bush, Powell also holds an MBA.
There is much speculation as to why he never ran for the presidency, since he was so obviously qualified for the job and wildly popular with Americans of all colors and ethnicities.. The most convincing explanation I’ve heard is that Colin never ran for the nation’s highest office because Alma Powell, his wife of many years, was adamantly opposed to it. Alma had suffered through his tours of duty on the front lines in Vietnam early in their marriage.
Although he came through that hazardous experience unscathed, she was convinced that some racist white American nut would surely assassinate her husband before allowing him to take up residence in the Oval Office. And given the vicious character assassination directed at the former General by rightwing nuts as I write, she had a point.
Alma was not willing to suffer through that; she felt Colin had given enough of his life in service to this country and they deserved a break. She did not wish to spend the balance of her days as the widow of a martyr. Alas Alma was not alone in her fears that a run for the Oval Office by Colin would result in tragedy.
A group of prominent black Americans led by Hollywood entertainment mogul Quincy Jones and multi-millionaire businessman Bruce Llewellyn, Colin’s cousin, met with Powell and begged him not to run because they believed the racist rightwing propaganda machine would attempt to besmirch his character and muddy his legacy.
The members of this delegation felt that Powell was too important as a role model to black youth and a symbol of Afro-American possibility to risk it all in a presidential race that they evidently believed that he could not win. It was a generational thing. For instance, when Michele Obama was asked about the possibility of Barack being assassinated after he decided to run for the presidency she said: “Barack is a black man living in Chicago; he can get shot just going to the gas station.”
I thought Colin Powell should have run and I believed he would have won. He was a strong supporter of Affirmative Action; was hesitant to deploy American military forces; supported the New Deal safety net; respected the rights of organized labor and felt there is an important role for government in developing the nation’s economy just like General Dwight Eisenhower.
And most importantly, he was a pragmatist rather than an ideologue, and could have worked with politicians across party lines in order to get things done. All of which are opposed by his fellow Republicans. Hence he has long been a square peg in a round hole, a misfit in the Grand Obstructionist Party.
For years I believed that Powell was in some sort of bizarre denial. Although many progressive black people were Republicans when he was a boy – given that the southern branch of the Democratic party called “Dixiecrats” was the bailiwick of the most racist reactionary rednecks in the nation, the avowed enemies of black progress who supported a legal racial caste system that served as the model for the Nazi Nuremburg laws directed against German Jews – by the 1980’s when Colin became a power in Republican politics the GOP had become the home of those same southern racist!
The reason iconic southern segregationists, who had built their reputations on the oppression of Afro-Americans, switched party’s was because the Democrats had become the party that passed the great Civil Rights bills that destroyed the de jure racial caste system in the US – American apartheid aka “The southern way of life.”
Hence the question might reasonably be asked: What did Powell expect? He was a black member of a party that had adopted a “Southern Strategy” designed to appeal to the racial resentments of white southerners over the victories of the Civil Rights movement. This strategy prompted white southern politicians cum hardcore racist reactionaries like Strom Thurmond, Jessie Helms, Trent Lott, et al to switch political parties.. How is it possible that Powell did not understand this?
The sad truth is that Colin became the protégée of certain members of the national security establishment, who recognized his talents and placed it above his color, and Mr. Powell entered into a Faustian Bargain with the Republican establishment. Furthermore, the consciousness of himself as a black man probably didn’t really dawn on him until he was at City College.
This is because in the Jamaican society that shaped his parents Colin was considered a “brown” rather than a “black” man. And while this distinction meant nothing in the US because the only distinction that really mattered was whether you were white on “Negro” – a socially constructed rainbow “race” whose complexions ran from “Light bright damned near white” to ebony black – in the triple color caste system of Jamaica the distinction between “black” and “brown” could determine your life chances.
But the Party has changed since Powell’s glory days; first with the rise of neo-cons and now the Tea Party, and now there’s the Devil to pay. Unwilling to sit silently by like that South Carolina Sambo Timmy Scott, or co-sign the dangerous far right mumbo jumbo of nuts like disgraced Army Colonel and recently defeated Republican congressman Alan West, Powell spoke out about some inconvenient truths that has made him a pariah in his own party.
Everything Colin Powell said is beyond question. After giving a ringing endorsement to Chuck Hagel’s appointment as Secretary of Defense, a position which is anathema to the right-wing ideologues in the GOP, Powell charged the Republicans with blatant race baiting by major party leaders like ex-governors Sarah Palin and John Sunnu. And he presented compelling evidence to support his charge. He said an element of the party just didn’t like minorities.
Powell accused the party of trying to suppress the votes of minorities. He said the Party was having an “identity problem” he observed that “the country has changed” and if the party does not change with the demographics “they are in trouble.” That’s putting it mildly, which is characteristic of the precise measured way he speaks about important issues.
It would have been no exaggeration to say that the Republicans are on the path to permanent minority status that will never win another national election unless they change with the times and accommodate themselves to the new political realities.
When Colin Powell was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of the military I always thought of him as a kind of American Othello. Like Shakespeare’s great black General Othello the Moor, General Powell was the supreme military commander in a nation dominated by white people. His civilian superiors were all white as was his military subordinates. Placing him in the same racially charged environment that Shakespeare placed his character in….the result was a tragedy.
General Powell had heard racist things said about him to his face, and he was the subject of intrigues and resentments from white villains and fools driven by envy, avarice and blind ambition – morally deformed cretins who wished him harm and anxiously awaited his fall from grace as they actively plotted to bring it about.
Forsooth, Colin Powel’s Grand Obstructionist Party, in whose interests he yet labors, is full of such treacherous characters: and they wish him ill even as they conspire against our President…to whom he has pledged fealty.
Perchance he shall escape the foul fate mad dogs like Dirty Dick Cheney and McDaddy McCain wish for him. But brother man had better watch his back. Maybe his ritual crucifixion – those of coarser sensibilities are calling it a lynching – is the price he must now pay for making a deal with the devil, bartering his racial soul for power and glory.Perhaps he now wonders if they were fools gold.
The answer to this riddle begs a wiser mind than I possess – hence I’m not saying this is the general’s dilemma…but it could be. After all, like his literary ancestor Othello, all he did was tell the round unvarnished truth.
The Lion in Winter
Old Soldiers Never Die!
( Double Click to see Powell’s TV Interview)
Playthell G, Benjamin
Harlem, New York
Janurary 15, 2013