Last week, Colin Powell said that he was going to vote for Barack Obama.
He said it in a long, thoughtful interview on “Meet the Press.” He paid tribute to John McCain, said it was close, said he’d waited months to decide, but in the end, he was going with Obama for numerous reasons.
Nobody heard the reasons.
Instead, a fast chorus of accusations broke out. This is about skin color! He’s only doing it because he’s black! Rush Limbaugh put his hands to his mouth and shouted into a microphone, “This is totally about race!” Pat Buchanan said “it would be naive” to believe it wasn’t. George Will suggested the same thing on national TV.
From sea to shining sea, you heard some form of the same charge: “Aha! See! Black supports black!”
Do I think it’s true?
That’s not the right question. The right question is: If it were true, so what?
How would Powell be different than most of us?
Jews and Catholics had favorites
You mean to tell me lots of white people don’t vote strictly for white people? That Mexicans don’t get behind a Mexican candidate? That when Joe Lieberman was on the ticket, Jews didn’t encourage each other to vote for him? That when John F. Kennedy ran, Catholics didn’t come out in support?
What I don’t get is why anyone thinks Powell wouldn’t or shouldn’t take race into account. The truth is, most of us vote what we are comfortable or familiar with. How many people pull a lever strictly because of a candidate’s view on abortion? Isn’t that picking someone just like you?
How many pull the lever for people who share their religious beliefs – without even studying those candidates’ tax policies? Isn’t that picking someone just like you?
How many women were supposedly supporting Hillary Clinton because of her gender? How many Mormons came out for Mitt Romney? How many rich people support McCain because, as a man of great wealth, he wants to keep taxes lower – just like them?
How many northerners don’t want a southerner? How many veterans will vote only for a veteran? How many native-born Americans will never vote for someone with an accent?
Yet Powell should be roasted for daring to do … what? Go against his party?
Let me get this straight. Republicans want Powell to show blind loyalty to Republicans. But if he shows similar loyalty to his heritage, he’s a traitor?
What’s not to like?
Come on. Sarah Palin is going across the country telling crowds that Obama “is not a man who sees America like you and I see America.”
Isn’t she creating an “us” versus “them” with that? Doesn’t she want people “like” her to support her campaign?
Palin is a classic example. Think about the many who have embraced her. How well could they possibly know her? She has been on the scene only for eight weeks.
But supporters say they know enough. Why? Because, as she is fond of pointing out, she reminds them of themselves?
Well, here’s a news flash. Sarah Palin doesn’t remind Colin Powell of himself. Same holds for other African Americans. So you can’t say “it’s just about race with those people” while claiming it’s about something else for you.
Unless, of course, you are part of the white population supporting Obama, or the black population supporting McCain. In that case, you are actually venturing into lesser-known territory. You are choosing to believe that a candidate’s personality or policies are more important than his race.
To me, that’s the noteworthy development. I can’t say what was in Powell’s mind. He has a deep and fascinating mind. But last week, all some people saw was skin.
Those people should ask themselves how often their vote swings on picking someone like themselves, and recognize that denying it only makes them part of an even larger political force in this country.
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).