Was race a factor in the decision of Colin Powell to repudiate his party's nominee and friend of 25 years, Sen. John McCain, two weeks before Election Day, and to endorse Barack Obama?
Gen. Powell does not deny it, contending only that race was not the only or decisive factor. "If I had only that fact in mind," he told Tom Brokaw, "I could have done this six, eight, ten months ago."
Yet, in hailing Barack as a "transformational figure" whose election would "electrify our country ... (and) the world," Powell seems to testify to the centrality of Barack's ethnicity to his decision.
For what else is there about this freshman senator, who has no significant legislative accomplishment, to transform our politics and to electrify the world, other than the fact that he would be the nation's first African-American president?
Powell's endorsement follows that of another African-American icon, Congressman John Lewis of Selma Bridge fame, who switched allegiance from Hillary to Barack, while Clinton still had a fighting chance to win.
When Lewis deserted her in February, he, too, claimed a Road-to-Damascus experience, to have seen a transformational figure:
"Something's happening in America, something some of us did not see coming ... Barack Obama has tapped into something that is extraordinary. ... It's a movement. It's a spiritual event."
Lewis' desertion, however, was not unrelated to a primary challenge in his Atlanta district and angry constituent demands to know why he was not backing the first black with a real chance at winning the White House.
Powell was under no such pressure. Hence, what he did, and why, are subjects of media and political speculation.
Understandably, Powell is being hailed by the Obama media as a profile in courage. Equally understandably, his endorsement of Obama is said by Republicans to smack of ingratitude, opportunism, and even vindictiveness toward a party to which he owes his fame and career.
Here was a man who was rendered extraordinary honors by three Republican presidents. Reagan raised him from Army colonel to national security adviser, the first African-American in the post. George H. W. Bush named him chairman of the Joint Chiefs, over hundreds of more senior officers. George W. Bush made him the first African-American secretary of state.
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