Colin Powell, U.S. Army General (Ret), former Secretary of State, the man behind the eponymous Powell Doctrine... ...is black.
And today, that's all that matters to Rush Limbaugh and some backers of McCain. According to Politico, Limbaugh said: "'Secretary Powell says his endorsement is not about race,'" Limbaugh wrote in an e-mail. "'OK, fine. I am now researching his past endorsements to see if I can find all the inexperienced, very liberal, white candidates he has endorsed. I'll let you know what I come up with.'"
For the record, using this logic, Senator Obama is also the first "inexperienced, very liberal" candidate I have endorsed. I have no political footprint, of course, so this did not make Politico or any other news source. But then, I imagine white guilt explains my support.
Citizen Powell spent considerable time Sunday morning explaining to the media why he was backing Obama over his old friend. He was even asked the delicate question, and gave a sensible reply. No matter, although Powell measured up the two teams and chose the one he felt was best suited to the times - Limbaugh tells us his vote was a given because of the color of his skin. The content of his character no longer matters to Rush Limbaugh.
I had occasion last night to conduct a small experiment with a friendly waiter at my local ristorante. He was ending his shift, but the friendly bartender was still on duty. I showed her the news item regarding Powell, and her eyes lit up. The waiter asked what I was showing and when I told him he replied: "90% of the black vote is going to Obama, we know that." I called the bartender over and asked him to repeat that to her face, a few shades darker than his. To his credit, he did, and the moment was delicious. He is not a racist, and to her credit she was not offended. He doesn't believe his conclusions diminish all people of color, and she knew he wasn't racist. She dismissed his assumption airily - "That's not why I'm voting for him."
Disclaimers: I do not know Colin Powell, but I have been privileged to hear him speak in a small setting while he was in uniform; I almost knocked him down one day as I rounded a Pentagon corridor too quickly; and I used to know the owner of the auto parts store that he frequents to work on his beloved car. I know this young waiter, and as I say, I have no reason to believe he discriminates against people on the basis of their color. I do not know Mr. Limbaugh, and have no idea if he does.
This is what President Bush used to call, in a different context, the "soft bigotry of low expectations." Yes, it may be correct that some people of color will vote for Obama on the basis of his heritage, and it may be true others will not for the same reason. However, it reduces both sides to assume those votes are based entirely on race. If it is wrong to call McCain supporters merely racist - and it is - then how can it be correct to call black Obama supporters electoral sheep?
When you reduce Mr. Powell's endorsement as based on pigment alone, you deny his humanity and call him a liar. The man has provided his rationale, and he deserves - like anyone, and more than most - to be trusted as a man of his word.