Colin Powell's Race Comments Are Hypocritical and Discredit Him More Than They Hurt the GOP


On Meet the Press, Sunday, Colin Powell said this:

POWELL: There’s also a dark — a dark vein of intolerance in some parts of the [Republican] party. What do I mean by that? I mean by that that they still sort of look down on minorities. How can I evidence that?

When I see a former governor say that the President is "shuckin' and jivin,'" that's racial era slave term. When I see another former governor after the president's first debate where he didn't do very well, says that the president was lazy. He didn't say he was slow. He was tired. He didn't do well. He said he was lazy. Now, it may not mean anything to most Americans, but to those of us who are African Americans, the second word is shiftless and then there's a third word that goes along with that. The birther, the whole birther movement. Why do senior Republican leaders tolerate this kind of discussion within the party?

There are, of course, more than a few logical problems with this statement, but it is interesting that Powell would make the kind of overblown race-baiting statement that normally only a highly partisan Democrat would make. Powell has always been something of a "liberal" Democrat in Republican military garb, with calls for the continuation of affirmative action policies and progressive Washington-planned economics and societal engineering.  

But there is a certain element of hypocrisy in the accusation for a man who was constantly promoted to the highest offices by Republicans, to act as though there is an endemic racism within the party. This is especially notable having been accused repeatedly by Democrats of being an "Uncle Tom." Granted, it is very possible that Powell's coming out as a Republican rather than a Democrat had a lot to do with his stints under Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, but why has he remained silent on Democratic racism directed towards him remains something of a mystery. Even President Barack Obama has made racially tinged statements concerning Powell.  

But let's look at the reality here. "Shuckin' and jivin' is more than a "racial era slave term." It has long been accepted into the American vernacular and culture as a term for "bobbing and weaving," being evasive or simply "BS-ing" someone. It has been the title of songs written by black and white singers and groups alike. From Dinah Washington to the Osmonds. Jive Talking was an enormous Bee Gees hit in the early 1980s with nary a complaint. One might be led to assume that the term has absolutely no negative racial overtones at all, unless it can be opportunistically turned into a boomerang against its political utterer.  

Further, Powell was silent when both New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and MSNBC host Chris Matthews used the term. Even more interestingly, Matthews skewered Palin for using the same term he had publicly used only a couple of years earlier. But it is also hardly a secret that Powell himself is an ongoing critic of Sarah Palin. Further, Powell has no doubt been smarting since Sununu criticized Powell's endorsement of Obama as race-based. According to Powell, Sununu's use of the term "lazy" to describe Obama's debate performance MUST be racist because lazy is a word white people have called black people in the past. Therefore any time a white person calls a black person lazy, they are being racist. All this because Sununu pointed out that the only logical reason that a black Republican military man would campaign against a white Republican military man to support a black lawyer and community organizer would be race, essentially the only thing they have in common. So it's not surprising that Powell has personally directed his race baiting comments in a very specific direction. It should be, but it is not. Sadly, towards the end of his life, Powell has proven he is more of a common politician than a statesman.

But let's look at the general accusation that Republicans "kind of look down on minorities." This is certainly a strange accusation given that Powell was named chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by a Republican, and secretary of state by a Republican. That he, in fact, served side by side with Condoleezza Rice, one of the most impressive minds in the country, also appointed by a Republican. Is it fair to say that SOME Republicans might look down on minorities? Possibly, though the evidence of it is scarce. But what is abundantly clear is that Democrats DO look down on minorities. Whether by the promotion of affirmative action or the promulgation of specialized national rules with special exceptions or benefits for minorities, Democrats apparently feel that individuals with a different background or skin color are incapable of making it in America without their well-meaning assistance. Democrats consistently stereotype and group people by race, believing that this is somehow important and necessary.  

Contrast this with the Republican paradigm. Republicans don't view race as important.  They don't generally address minority groups as victims. They don't talk about Americans as specialized groups. Yet for those "minorities" within the party, there is no glass ceiling. There is advancement and opportunity. Powell himself was all virtually begged to run for president and turned it down. This is somewhat odd behavior for a party that ostensibly "looks down" on minorities. Even more odd for the party that freed blacks from slavery and appointed the first black Senator. The party that voted in higher percentages for the Civil Rights Act than the majority Democratic Party at the time. 

Is it true that Republican dismissal of race as the arbiter of human potential can come across as indifference? Of course. If you believe that you are part of a special group and Republicans aren't paying special attention to you, then this is obviously going to be a source of contention. If you are a minority immigrant American, you might even take Republicans' anti-immigrant stance as racial, given that most immigrants are of Latino ethnicity. But if you see yourself as an American individual, then the door is wide open in the Republican Party. Republicans have a lot of problems, from social conservatism to misunderstandings of constitutional government power over immigration and drug to foreign adventurism, but race is not one of them. And Colin Powell's suggestion that it is has him boxing with shadows.