By RUFUS G.W. SANDERS. Register columnist
From the time Colin Powell made his national debut on the American political stage during his electrifying speech at the Republican convention in 1996, it was clear this guy was no Republican. I wondered even then if he was not really confused about his true political loyalties. I had not heard a Republican speak with so much concern and compassion about the downtrodden, poor, disenfranchised and disadvantaged. I remembered appreciating and being moved by the philosophy of Nelson Rockefeller and Edward Brooks, both liberal Republicans of another more recent era, but this Colin Powell message was new and fresh. It came after the Reagan led revolution had turned this country into something like a right-winged oligarchial state of neo-con philosophical rhetoric we now know was socially disruptive, politically disastrous and economically destructive.
This retired solider, son of immigrants, became the quintessential American citizen who had lived the American dream -- but who wanted that dream to come to a reality for every American. He said we were the richest nation on earth but that we still had not solved the problem of poverty, hunger or health care or adequate housing. He said we must fight for reform not just to save money but because we believe that there are better ways to take care of Americans in need. He went on to say we must make sure reduced government spending should not single out the poor and the middle class and that corporate welfare for the wealthy must be first in the line of elimination. He made it clear he believed in a woman's rights and that he supported affirmative action. This was like no Republican that I had heard before. I became confused. Either this guy is really a Democrat and doesn't know it, or maybe I could be a Republican and I just didn't get it.
It was on that night in '96 that he became the most popular figure in America at the time as well as the conscience of the Republican Party. The party, with great trepidation and fear, had no choice but to accept this African-American who had risen through the ranks from a Vietnam solider to an army general, national security adviser, and chairman of the Joint Chiefs. He could have been the first black president of the United States but he settled for the position of Secretary of State in the Bush administration. It was during his work as Secretary of State that his career came to a halt.
After being Bush-winked into not running for President in 2000 and being given the consolation prize of Secretary of State for the next four years he suffered humiliation, ostracism and alienation, becoming a figure of public ridicule for the Bush administration. His constant in-house fighting with Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld has become the fodder for dissertations to come. His personal credibility and reputation were challenged when he claimed at the behest of the Bush administration Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, when it was so obvious now it didn't. He was duped as he convinced the world to go to war against Iraq.
He was the good solider in an administration that marginalized him, rejecting his advice, spurning his experience and ignoring his expertise. He was muffled, outflanked at every turn. He lost his standing with Democrats and European allies who had respected his intellect as well as the media which made him its darling. He was no longer the Republicans' black spokesperson. He came to be replaced by Condoleezza Rice.
Now, to add insult to injury, Cheney and Rush Limbaugh are urging that Gen. Powell leave the Republican Party. After all, they say -- and they are right -- he did endorse and voted for Barack Obama for president. He disagrees with Republican economic policies. He publicly chastened the party for the Sarah Palin selection. They say he is not just trying to be a moderate in the Rockefeller sense, but actually is attempting to move the party dramatically to the left to redefine its base.
I say, Gen. Powell, you have taken enough. While good soldiers never quit, good soldiers must at some point, stand for their principles. You have become persona non grata within the Republican Party. They have long maligned you and have made every attempt to distant themselves from you. They are right; your soul was never really Republican in the first place and your mind only has played tricks on you. Why take any more denigration? You have been marginalized and unappreciated by this party long enough. It's time to bail out and there is no better time than now. The Democratic Party awaits you.