Having said a little about what I thought the Powell endorsement would lead to, that is to say, a reevaluation of Powell (for better or worse) more than anything, I thought I would say something about what I think it says.
While he went to great lengths to offer kind words for John McCain, whom he has known for decades, Powell essentially laid blamed for all of the worst moments of negativity throughout the entire campaign at the feet of his friend of thirty years. He said that John McCain could be a good president, but that the party he leads is becoming smaller, and has become trapped in the muck of nationalistic purity and religious zealotry; that John McCain was given an opportunity to be the conscience of the Republican party, to lead the party out of purgatory. But instead of being the party's conscience, McCain surrendered his own in the hope of winning an election.
I'm sure a parallel could be drawn to Colin Powell in 2002. He may have been the only man respected enough in that administration to convince the president to delay or forgo an invasion of Iraq; instead he sold the war to the American people and the UN. Whether either of these men see the parallel, McCain is likely about to enter a period of his life Powell entered years ago, one of deep regret and roads not taken.
In the end, there may not have been a road to victory for John McCain that would not have lead through the mud. I imagine that's a calculation his campaign made much earlier than their first mentioning of Obama's supposed friendship with terrorists. Indeed, McCain's slogan "Country First," unveiled at the end of the primaries, betrays a willingness (if not a readiness, at the time) to call into question his opponent's patriotism.
Put everything else aside, that decision, that jingoistic nonsense is what set the stage for everything that followed. The early ads, considered by the media to be entirely positive, spoke of an "American President Americans had been waiting for." These were the first dots the McCain campaign asked you to connect.
You know in a connect-the-dots puzzle, how it takes you a while to figure out what the picture's going to be, but how at some point the picture--maybe halfway through, maybe more, maybe less--becomes pretty clear? Once you've crossed that point of discovery, you don't have to look at the numbers anymore; you don't even have to complete the puzzle; finishing the picture is just a rote exercise.
This is how I felt at the beginning of the summer. I speak as somebody who came into this election year with a certain level of respect for John McCain. I actually thought the surge was a good idea, albeit for different reasons than John McCain. Still, I have to say that once they pulled that Country First and American President bullshit out of their hat, I felt like a fucking cartographer on already charted ground. I had this campaign mapped out from beginning to end. I knew exactly where we were going, and it wasn't to higher ground.
After that, none of the dots really mattered anymore. I didn't matter that Obama chose to lose a war over an election, or that he was a global celebrity, or that he was best friends with Bill Ayers, or even that the Governor of fucking Alaska was being nominated for the vice presidency. None of any of that mattered. Before any of those dots showed up, picture was already clear: It was Barack Obama wearing a fucking turban; It was Michelle Obama with an afro and a Kalashnikov; It was a couple of black Olympians standing on a podium, heads down, with their black-gloved fists in the air as the Star Spangled Banner played. This was the picture. And we are left to ask what became of John McCain's campaign? Where did it go wrong? We ask this now that even his friends say he should lose. But the answer is pretty clear.
Like I said, I don't know whether there was a righteous path to victory for John McCain, but if you're a man who values character and honor above all else, it's in those times that you choose to be righteous. In the end, John McCain chose another path; it was one Colin Powell knew from experience, and one that he clearly sees unworthy of reward.
I don't know if this endorsement is Colin Powell's attempt at redemption, if it's a dot that's gonna help map out an image of General Powell he hasn't quite resembled since he came to Midtown back in 2002. I don't know whether he seeks redemption at all, if he even considers himself or his image in need of redeeming. Still, the words he said today were strong, indeed, there were moments (speaking about the Muslim soldier buried at Arlington) where he was quite moving, and the image he struck was that of a man who was capable of showing a great deal more character and sensibility than maybe we've come to expect of a politician.
He was a military man who never became a politician. And while he was long considered to be a credible contender to be the first African American president, he never was a candidate. We will never know what kind of candidate he may have been, but today we were given a good idea of the campaign he would have run. And for the first time, I recognise the loss we incurred when he chose not to enter the primaries in 2000.