Friday, October 24, 2008

Colin, John and Me

I look up to Colin Powell.

He's a fellow black man that happens to be a moderate Republican like myself. When there was speculation back in the mid-90s that he might run for president, I was hopeful. Here was a black man who had a real shot at the White House. When he became Secretary of State under Bush, I was excited that we had our first African American Secretary of State, a black man sharing the world stage.

But it wasn't sheer racial pride that has made me an admire of the former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He was a moderate in his party. Save one other person, he was the head of a more moderate face of the party, one that was inclusive and spoke to our dreams and hopes and not simply our fears.

So, when Colin Powell decides to break with his party and support Barack Obama, that says something to me.

It's not as Rush Limbaugh says about a black guy supporting a black guy. What is says is how the GOP has lost centrists and independents that are key to helping the party win. If it were simply race, then Powell would have endorsed him long ago. No, this is about the dead end that the GOP, Colin Powell's party, MY party has reached- it has done everything to focus on the base and the result come November 4 is that it will for a time, be an undignified rump,having scared off everyone that could have made it a winning party.

When this election season began in January, I was pulling for John McCain. He was the only one that I wanted. When it was Minnesota's turn to vote, I supported him in the GOP caucus. I knew that he had a good environmental record and a solid history of reaching accross the isle. I knew he was a centrist conservative that could bring our nation together.

But he had to face the current GOP and that meant changing. I tired to hang on, knowing that this is what one has to do to get elected. The election is the silly season.

But what has soured me on McCain is what has soured Powell- the choice of a someone that isn't ready to be President. Maybe McCain thought he had to please his base. But in doing so, he scared off moderates and independents and even a few conservatives in the long run.

And maybe that shows one of the mistakes of the McCain campaign: he forgot to take care of HIS base: moderates and independents, moderate Republicans and Democrats that appealed to his way of governing. His focus on drilling, allowed Democrats to effectively paint him as against the environment when his record suggested otherwise. His willingness to focus on tax cuts, something he once opposed, again allowed his opponents to paint him as a big spender. Both moves frustrated his original supporters.

During the final debate, McCain said that he wasn't President Bush and that Senator Obama should not run against the President. One wonders, why didn't he say something like that six months ago? What if he proposed a new agenda, a new conservatism?

Like Mr. Powell, I still think McCain is a good person at heart. But he has not given people like Powell and myself a reason to support him. I think Powell's decision is something that is taking place among many Republicans tired of shenanigans of the last few years. Many of us hoped the Arizona Senator would chart a new course, but it didn't turn out the way we expected.

What Limbaugh and to some extent, McCain, miss is that moderates and independents are important to a party's success. The old strategy of the base plus one can't cut it.

Ronald Reagan showed us a conservatism that was inclusive and expansive. For some reason, his followers in the GOP have missed that message. In his 1977 speech called "The New Republican Party," Reagan had this to say:

And just to set the record straight, let me say this about our friends who are now Republicans but who do not identify themselves as conservatives: I want the record to show that I do not view the new revitalized Republican Party as one based on a principle of exclusion. After all, you do not get to be a majority party by searching for groups you won’t associate or work with. If we truly believe in our principles, we should sit down and talk. Talk with anyone, anywhere, at any time if it means talking about the principles for the Republican Party. Conservatism is not a narrow ideology, nor is it the exclusive property of conservative activists.

McCain forgot to widen the base. Maybe he has been listening to his consultants or hemmed in by the far right, but it shows that we Republicans have forgotten what Reagan told us so long ago.

What I hope is that after this election, the seeds of a new Republican party is born. I still believe in the GOP and still think it can change for the better. Yeah, I know that makes me a fool, but I am a conservative and this is my home.

In the end, Colin Powell had to do what he had to do: stand on principle and be true to himself. I just wish that was something John McCain had done.

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