Former Secretary of State Colin Powell was the exclusive guest on NBC's Meet The Press on Sunday, where he extolled the virtues of Chuck Hagel, the former Republican Senator from Nebraska just nominated by President Obama to serve as his Secretary of Defense in his second term in office.
Hagel is "superbly qualified based on his overall record, based on his service to the country, based on how he feels about troops and veterans and families," Powell told MTP anchor David Gregory." "I think he will do a great job as secretary of defense, and I think in his confirmation hearings, all of these issues that you have raised, others have raised, he will be prepared to deal with."
Neoconservatives like William Kristol are running a campaign to try to bring down the Hagel nomination, saying his previous statements (and votes) on Iraq, Iran and Israel put him outside the mainstream of the contemporary foreign policy establishment.
But Powell is just the latest member of that establishment (including former George H.W. Bush national security advisor Brent Scowcroft) who are enthusiastically endorsing Hagel.
Perhaps more interesting his Powell's interview, however, was his broadside against own his own party for their problems attracting minority voters.
Powell endorsed President Obama for president in 2008 and 2012, both times eliciting criticism from the likes of Rush Limbaugh and others that his choice simply came down to race. When asked if criticism indicates that the GOP has now left him, Powell said to some extent yes, and struck hard at Republicans when it came to their problems when it comes to diversity.
"In recent years there's been a significant shift to the right....I think what the Republican party needs to do now is take a very hard look at itself, and understand that the country has changed. The country is changing demographically and if the Republican Party does not change along with the demographic, they're going to be in trouble."
Referencing the various election bills in a number of states (including Florida) that appeared to be trying to make it more difficult for more Democratic Party oriented voters (i.e. blacks) from voting, Powell said that obviously backfired on the GOP, as witnessed by the voters who waited hours to vote on Election Day.
And then there was this:
POWELL: There’s also a dark — a dark vein of intolerance in some parts of the 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."
The former governor that Powell was referring to was New Hampshire' s John Sununu, a surrogate for the Mitt Romney campaign who made the comment to MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell last fall.
Powell's comment about the lack of sensitivity on the part of Sununu is something that is at the heart of Tampa Bay Times media critic Eric Deggans recent book, Race-Baiter.
I asked Deggans last year about Andrea Mitchell's response to Sununu (She asked him if he really wanted to be on the record as using that word. He said he did).
"What she’s trying to do is referring to a black president as 'lazy' sort of subliminally brings up these ideas that really should be resisted," Deggans told me. "There are lots of way to report about somebody who didn’t prepare for a debate, other than saying he’s lazy. People who like Obama I think would say ‘He’s the president of the United States, he has a few things on his plate. Just because he didn’t spend every two hours at a clip preparing for a debate doesn’t mean he was sitting at home watching Homeland. It might be kind of insulting. Why would the word lazy be the one you go to? Is that deliberate? So I understand what she means by calling him out for that."
These are important points for people to understand when Colin Powell makes the same point on Meet The Press . And it's certainly important for a political party trying to broaden its appeal to black and brown voters. And single women as well.
Then again, what to make of recent comments made by Georgia Republican Representative Phil Gingrey, a former OBGYN who came out defending former Missouri GOP Senate candidate Todd Akin's embarrassing comment from this past summer about "legitimate rape," which ultimately played a big part in his losing his race against Democrat Claire McCaskill. The Democrats went to town on that issue all year, calling it another example of the GOP's "war on women."
The Marietta Daily Journal reported that Gingrey said that Akin was "partly right on that," when it came to women's bodies shutting down from a "legitimate rape."
In Missouri, Todd Akin ... was asked by a local news source about rape and he said, "Look, in a legitimate rape situation" — what he meant by legitimate rape was just look, someone can say I was raped: a scared-to-death 15-year-old that becomes impregnated by her boyfriend and then has to tell her parents, that's pretty tough and might on some occasion say, "Hey, I was raped." That's what he meant when he said legitimate rape versus non-legitimate rape. I don’t find anything so horrible about that. But then he went on and said that in a situation of rape, of a legitimate rape, a woman’s body has a way of shutting down so the pregnancy would not occur. He’s partly right on that. ...
And I've delivered lots of babies, and I know about these things. It is true. We tell infertile couples all the time that are having trouble conceiving because of the woman not ovulating, "Just relax. Drink a glass of wine. And don't be so tense and uptight because all that adrenaline can cause you not to ovulate." So he was partially right wasn’t he? But the fact that a woman may have already ovulated 12 hours before she is raped, you’re not going to prevent a pregnancy there by a woman's body shutting anything down because the horse has already left the barn, so to speak. And yet the media took that and tore it apart.