WASHINGTON – Former Secretary of State Colin Powell on Sunday ruled out a return to government service but said he still supports President Barack Obama even though he hasn't yet decided who to vote for in 2012.
The highly respected retired general and moderate Republican made waves when he endorsed Democrat Obama in 2008.
He told CNN's "State of the Union" that he thought Obama's presidency remains a work in progress and that tough issues such as the economy and unemployment need to be addressed. Powell said he hoped the president would tackle these matters in his State of the Union address Tuesday night.
Powell also lamented the lack of civility in political discourse and urged Americans to display tolerance in the wake of the shooting in Tucson, Ariz.
"I think he's got a way to go," Powell said. "I mean, he hasn't achieved all of his purposes, but he's stabilized the economy" and taken on health care reform. "You know, we didn't elect Superman. We elected a human being, Barack Obama."
"I think he has reached out to countries around the world and has developed good relations with countries around the world," Powell said. "And I think he's working very hard on the issue of unemployment which I think is the major problem facing America right now, and I think and I hope that this will be the centerpiece of the State of the Union speech."
Dismissing widespread speculation that he might take a job in the Obama administration, possibly replacing Robert Gates as defense secretary, Powell said he is not interested in a government role. He said he wants to remain in private life although he is happy to be an informal presidential advisor.
"The administration knows that I am quite content with the work I am doing now," he said. "I am not interested in a government job."
Reflecting on the Arizona shootings that killed six people and badly wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Powell said he was dismayed by the harsh tenor of political debate that some have said may have contributed to the attack.
"There has crept in our society and our public dialogue, a coarseness, a nastiness, an attack of people who don't share the same views as you do," he said. "All sorts of nastiness. And it is not just politicians who are doing this to each other, and, frankly, politics has always been a contact sport in this country . but with all of the cable channels and talk radio and blogs, especially blogs, where people can be anonymous with their nastiness, I think has caused a level of coarseness in our society that we've all got to think about."
Powell said he thought Obama was making an effort to reach across political divides to tone down the rhetoric and urged members of Congress to do the same.
Despite his support for Obama, Powell would make no commitment yet for the 2012 White House race.
"I will always vote for the person who I think is best qualified," he said. "I am not committed to any candidate until I see all the candidates. I have not yet seen anybody on the Republican side that I am ready to commit to and I am not committed to President Obama either."