Former Secretary of State Colin Powell made headlines in 2008 when he crossed party lines to publicly endorse Barack Obama’s presidential bid. Back then, he described Obama as a “transformational figure,” but now, he says, he’s unsure whom he’ll support in 2012.
“I haven’t decided who I’m going to vote for,” Powell said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “Just as was the case in 2008, I am going to watch the campaign unfold. In the course of my life I have voted for Democrats, I have voted for Republicans, I have changed from one four-year cycle to another. I’ve always felt it my responsibility as a citizen to take a look at the issues, examine the candidates, and pick the person that I think is best qualified for the office of the president in that year. And not just solely on the basis of party affiliation,” he said.
And, like many Republicans, he appears to be underwhelmed by his party’s current presidential contenders. There are some “interesting candidates” in the field, he said, but “let’s see if anybody else is going to join, and we’ve got a long way to go.”
Powell, who served under President George H. W. Bush as the nation’s first African-American secretary of state, also discussed what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. means to him. He had been stationed in Vietnam when King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream" Speech, and was preparing to return there when the civil rights leader was killed, and his wife and children were living in Birmingham, Alabama during that racially charged period.
“And what Dr. King meant to me was that this second revolution, this second civil war was underway. It was time now to meet the dream set out for us by our founding fathers,” said the general, who helped raise more than $1 million for the King memorial. “And what Dr. King did was not just free African-Americans. He freed all of America. He caused us — through his sacrifice and his service, he caused America — to look at a mirror of itself; look in that mirror and what do you see? Is this who we want to be? Is this the inspiration we want to be to the rest of the world? And the answer was no.”
Powell also said that if King were alive today he would be disappointed by how Washington politics have become so bitterly partisan and uncivil that it’s nearly impossible for lawmakers to reach compromise, and that he’d be “raging” over the social inequities in American society, particularly in the area of education. He’d also hold African-American children accountable for ensuring that they take advantage of the educational opportunities that are available to them.
“He'd also be chewing them out a bit, saying, you know, you've got work harder to get your education. We have to bring back intact families so we can raise children in loving, intact families. And he would also be on the world stage talking about poverty and inequality throughout the world,” Powell said. “He was a man who transcended the African-American experience. He became an American icon, and he became an icon to the rest of the world.”