Clarence Page: Colin Powell, you will be missed in the ‘sensitive center’ | Remark

When I learned that former Secretary of State Colin Powell had passed, my mind raced in the fall of 2004, when I asked him if he had considered resigning.

At the time, the war in Iraq was going as badly as he predicted, when he would have been the most important opponent in the administration of George W. Bush of an action. also drastic.

“If you break it, you own it,” he is said to have told President George W. Bush in what has been quickly dubbed “the rule of Powell’s Pottery Barn”.

But its resistance eventually weakened against persistent supporters of the war. In February 2003, he delivered what he would later call a painful “stain” on his otherwise impeccable record: a 76-minute speech to the United Nations in support of war to rid Iraq of its so-called weapons of destruction. massive.

As information on weapons of mass destruction was subsequently proven to be false, many war critics called on Powell to resign. I asked, had he thought about quitting smoking?

“I’m not giving up,” he replied bluntly. “There have been high days and low days,” he continued. “It still exists in all the jobs I have had. But I believe that we are doing very important things in the world.

But as he proceeded to enumerate a bunch of “important things” that, indeed, were significant, I couldn’t help but recall a classic 1960s editorial caricature of the awe-inspiring list of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s legislative accomplishments partially covered by a huge inkblot with white letters saying “Vietnam War”.

Likewise, Powell’s resume is full of landmarks and “first blacks” – first black secretary of state, first black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, first black national security adviser and so on.

But what also stands out is that as the 1996 presidential election approached, he was the first to be firmly viewed by major politicians, donors, journalists and other political junkies from both parties as potentially the first black president.

Then, at the end of 1995, Powell dashed such hopes, announcing that he had no “fire in his stomach” to undertake the massive campaign that such an aspiration required.

It was a shame, in my opinion, because it seemed to offer so much of what it called “the sensitive center” that our politics need in these difficult times – now more than ever.

In his best-selling autobiography, “My American Journey,” he seems to agree. The “time may be nigh for a third major party to emerge to represent the sensitive center of the American political spectrum,” he wrote.

But he wasn’t going to lead it.

“To succeed in politics, you need a vocation that I do not yet hear,” he wrote. “I believe I can serve my country in other ways. However, I do not unequivocally rule out a political future.

Well, time has caught up with it, as it ends up doing for all of us. That’s why when I see the glowing, richly deserved obituaries pouring into Powell’s memory, I can’t help but think about what could have been – and how that prospect was humbled by what. is.

Racially, Powell came at a time when, despite disasters as dire as the Los Angeles riots of 1992, other new cultural lands were being cleared by heroes of color such as Oprah Winfrey and Michael Jordan, for name just two. Powell presented a vision, at least, of how our racial glass ceiling could be shattered as well.

Fortunately Powell, an outspoken Republican who became more recently independent, has stayed with us long enough to help Barack Obama break through that presidential ceiling with his endorsement.

But the relentless reaction to Obama’s rise, including baseless paranoid fears that he could be a secretive Muslim immigrant, offers a clue of what would have been in store for the U.S.-born Powell. Jamaican parents.

So maybe it’s just as good that Powell didn’t show up. I didn’t used to think that. But the continued political polarization that was only beginning in the 1990s convinced me. Since then, Republicans have gone further to the right and Democrats to the left. What we need is leadership that can rebuild this sensitive center. It wasn’t Powell, but he helped set the stage.


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