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Please, ColinThis isn't a 'will he or won't he' analysis. I'll leave that to the political experts. Certainly, there is enough of that sort of thing available if that's what you want.
It is, rather, an answer to a question. My answer, and the answer of a number of my friends to a question that Colin Powell has asked. Powell has said that he wants to see what sort of reaction the American people have to him, to see if there is broad enough support for him as a presidential candidate, before he makes a decision whether and how to run for that office.
I have no reason to doubt that he means just what he says. Certainly, as he has initiated his book tour, and given countless interviews, the image of Colin Powell that has emerged has been one of a centrist, perhaps more accurately described as a 'Rockefeller Republican.' That means that he is going against the tide of recent history, and therefore should be cautious, should check the water before diving in. A centrist has little chance of achieving the Republican nomination, say the experts. Since the 'Reagan Revolution' the Republican party has been dominated by the right wing. Currently, it is widely considered that any nominee must make himself palatable to the Christian Coalition and their followers, who supposedly will have a lock on the nomination process through their organizational skill and philosophical zeal.
All the Republican candidates have positioned themselves to take this into account, either striving to infiltrate that right wing like Bob Dole and Phil Gramm, or to throw themselves directly against it, in an effort to 'influence the debate' like Arlen Specter and, formerly, Pete Wilson. All of the Republican candidates have allowed the right wing of the party to define the rules of the game, to chose the battlefield and the weapons that will be used. The right wing is forcing all the players to play on their turf, to fight according to their rules.
But this isn't what Colin Powell is doing. He is a modern military strategist, even though retired. And the lessons of military history in this century have influenced his thinking. There's a large, formidable force out there in the form of the religious right, dug in to their positions and willing to slug it out. Rather than allow his opponent to define the rules, to chose the battlefield and the weapons, Powell is playing a fast and mobile game. He is bypassing the French Maginot line, he is doing a great end-round in the desert, cutting off the Iraqi army, once again. He isn't playing the game the conventional way. He is using his own weapons, choosing his own battlefield. Colin Powell is going straight to the American people, who are much more centrist than the Christian Coalition. He is asking us, because there are a whole lot more of us, and we can make a difference at either the Republican primaries or in the general election if he runs as an independent.
So, do we want a centrist? Clearly, Ross Perot showed that there was room between the Republican and Democratic parties, even with his lack of grace and simplistic answers. Bill Clinton positioned himself as a centrist 'New Democrat' in '92, and continues to try and do so today, even though he too often lacks the personal charisma and solid character to appeal to most of the people. Bob Dole has spent most of his life being moderate, though of late he has disillusioned most moderates by his efforts to kow-tow to the right wing of his party. Yes, we want a centrist, but one who has the courage of his convictions, one who has real leadership skills, one who can understand and navigate through a complex world with shades of grey.
I'm not sure that Colin Powell is that man. But he has asked if there is enough support for him to enter the race. I think that there is. Personally, I would rather see him enter as a Republican, and not play spoiler the way that Perot did in the last election. And he would be doing us all a favor, Republicans, Democrats, and independents alike, by showing that 1.5 million members of the Christian Coalition do not speak for the majority of Americans, do not have any special right to define the terms of the election debate anymore than the left wing of the Democratic party does. There are a lot of people left stranded out here in the middle, tired of the single-issue rhetoric and fanatical factionalism. The system isn't broken, it has just been seized and is being held captive by the extremists.
Please, Colin, run. Do it as a Republican, if you think that you can get enough votes in the primaries to counteract the power of the Christian Right in the caucus states. But do it as an independent if you have to, appealing to those who have been shut out of the process in the Republican party, and those Democrats who want real leadership, real character. However you do it, run.
all work © James T. Downey, 1993-2006
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