fresh voices from the front lines of change







It was a pretty big news weekend. And even though guessing what a particular Sunday show guest would be asked was a "no-brainer," it’s tempting to score a 2-for3 weekend for the watchdog.

Let’s start with the big one, shall we? Everyone else is talking about it. Even ABC This Week devoted a tiny slice of its time slot to it. (Fox News Sunday, not so much.)

The Sunday show moment on everyone’s lips was Colin Powell’s appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press.

Host Tom Brokaw included Iraq and Afghanistan in a long list of issues the next administration will have to deal with, and while Powell didn’t offer a direct assessment of the Bush administration’s handling of the "war on terror," it seemed to be there — in between the lines of his answer.

MR. BROKAW:  We indicated in that opening, there is a lot of anticipation and speculation about your take on this presidential campaign.  We’ll get to that in a moment.  But in your old business we might call this a tour of the horizon.  Whoever’s elected president of the United States, that first day in the Oval Office on January 21st will face this:  an American economy that’s in a near paralytic state at this time; we’re at war in two different countries, Afghanistan and Iraq; we have an energy crisis; we have big decisions to make about health care and about global climate change.  The president of the United States and the Congress of the United States now have the highest disapproval ratings that we have seen in many years.  In all your years of public service, have you ever seen an incoming president face such daunting challenges?

GEN. POWELL:  No.  I have seen more difficult times in our history.  I think about the early ’70s when we were going through Watergate, Spiro Agnew, Nixon period, that was not a good time.  But right now we’re also facing a very daunting period.  And I think the number one issue the president’s going to have to deal with is the economy.  That’s what the American people are worried about.  And, frankly, it’s not just an American problem, it’s an international problem.  We can see how all of these economies are now linked in this globalized system.  And I think that’ll be number one.  The president will also have to make decisions quickly as to how to deal with Iraq and Afghanistan.  And also I think the president has to reach out to the world and show that there is a new president, a new administration that is looking forward to working with our friends and allies.  And in my judgment, also willing to talk to people who we have not been willing to talk to before. Because this is a time for outreach.

;As he explained what he’ll do when he steps into the voting booth on November 4th, Powell offered a familiar critique of conservatism.

…And I’ve also been disappointed, frankly, by some of the approaches that Senator McCain has taken recently, or his campaign ads, on issues that are not really central to the problems that the American people are worried about. This Bill Ayers situation that’s been going on for weeks became something of a central point of the campaign.  But Mr. McCain says that he’s a washed-out terrorist.  Well, then, why do we keep talking about him?  And why do we have these robocalls going on around the country trying to suggest that, because of this very, very limited relationship that Senator Obama has had with Mr. Ayers, somehow, Mr. Obama is tainted.  What they’re trying to connect him to is some kind of terrorist feelings.  And I think that’s inappropriate.

Now, I understand what politics is all about.  I know how you can go after one another, and that’s good.  But I think this goes too far.  And I think it has made the McCain campaign look a little narrow.  It’s not what the American people are looking for.  And I look at these kinds of approaches to the campaign and they trouble me.  And the party has moved even further to the right, and Governor Palin has indicated a further rightward shift.  I would have difficulty with two more conservative appointments to the Supreme Court, but that’s what we’d be looking at in a McCain administration.  I’m also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, "Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim." Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he’s a Christian.  He’s always been a Christian.  But the really right answer is, what if he is?  Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America.  Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president?  Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, "He’s a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists." This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine.  It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.  And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son’s grave.  And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone.  And it gave his awards–Purple Heart, Bronze Star–showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death.  He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn’t have a Christian cross, it didn’t have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith.  And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey.  He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life.  Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourself in this way.  And John McCain is as nondiscriminatory as anyone I know.  But I’m troubled about the fact that, within the party, we have these kinds of expressions.

And Powell was later echoed by, of all people, New York Times Columnist David Brooks.

MR. BROKAW:  David Brooks, what’s your take on the Colin Powell endorsement?

MR. DAVID BROOKS:  Well, Republicans can either attack Colin Powell or they can regard him as a symptom of what’s wrong with the party.  And Powell was not attacking John McCain; he had a lot of nice things to say about John McCain.  He was attacking the Republican Party.  And the key word there was "narrowing." The party is narrowing and leaving a lot of people out, people like Colin Powell, who served in the Bush administration, who spoke at the Republican convention.  And they have to ask themselves, "Why are we narrowing?" And that seems, to me, the, the implication of all of this, and that’s the symptom of this whole election.  A lot of people who were Republicans feel they’ve been left out not by McCain, but by the party.  And if McCain has any blame, it’s in the beginning of this campaign, he didn’t say, "I’m different," he didn’t break with the party, he didn’t reform the party.  He got sucked up–sucked in, at least halfway, into the orthodoxy of the party that is narrowing.

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