Colin Powell: Republican, by Bruce Bartlett: Yesterday,
Colin Powell restated his continued membership in the Republican Party. But
he didn’t really explain why. It seemed more like an act of defiance than a
statement of fact—no one is going to tell him what part of the bus he can sit in
and no one is going to tell him what political party he can be a member of.
That’s fine, but if Powell is going to make a point of staying in a party that
doesn’t particularly want him—former Vice President Dick Cheney has more or less
told him to leave—then Powell has a responsibility to do more than give the
occasional television interview criticizing the GOP’s lack of inclusiveness; he
needs to engage it on a systematic basis.
Powell has to accept that he is in a unique position to command attention and lead the Republican Party—or at least that part of it that isn’t consumed with defending the indefensible on torture or living in a fantasy world where the economy would be booming today if it just wasn’t for Obama’s budget deficits.
It’s a pretty small constituency these days—most of those, like me, who share
Powell’s views have left his party to become independents—but it may be enough
to build a foundation that can offer a meaningful challenge to the dominant
Cheney-Limbaugh-Palin wing of the Republican Party that views all efforts to
expand its membership as a sell-out to be resisted at all cost, even if it means
further political losses.
But at the end of the day, the job of a political party is to win elections and to win elections it must be inclusive, not exclusive. Thus the ultimate message Powell has to offer Republicans is the most persuasive one of all—follow him and win or follow Cheney-Limbaugh-Palin and lose. Personally, I would like to see Powell follow in the steps of Dwight D. Eisenhower and run for president—I’ll sign up for his campaign today even if it means having to rejoin the Republican Party. But if he is serious about not wishing to do that, then Powell has a responsibility to help those who share his vision by lending his enormous credibility, popularity and fund-raising ability to their efforts. If he fails to do so he risks being seen by history as someone who walked away when the times demanded that those who share his beliefs stand and fight for what they believe.
Throughout history many of mankind’s greatest leaders have been those who took on leadership responsibilities only very reluctantly. I hope Powell changes his mind and becomes the leader that the Republican Party desperately needs. After all, he is the one who said, in essence, that he would rather fight than switch.
Right now the Republican Party seems to be controlled by the old guard, the people who grew up with and still have the fear of communism, people who can never forget Vietnam, and so on (the Tareyton ad with the slogan "would rather fight than switch" hinted at in the last line began in 1963, appeared on TV from 1966-1971, and, according to Wikipedia, the "then-fresh slogan was adopted by supporters of Barry Goldwater during the 1964 campaign for the presidency."). Their villains may have changed, but the world is still framed by the battles of the past.
Most of them are getting along in years, and their days in control are numbered by the march of time, but who will still be there to take over for them once they give up the reins of power? There is a new generation of Republicans ready to take the Party in a new direction, or at least disassociate themselves with the craziness, but they do not yet have a voice strong enough to stand up to the "Cheney-Limbaugh-Palin wing" and fight for control of the Party. As much as I agree with Bruce Bartlett that this is necessary for the health of the Republican Party going forward, and as much as I agree with others that in the long-run it is best if the two parties are competitive, I am not sure that Colin Powell is that leader. I hope he surprises me, and in any case he can and should be an important part of the fight, but I think the answer is elsewhere.