Within the next two weeks Time magazine will publish lengthy excerpts from Colin Powell's memoirs, Barbara Walters will interview him for a prime time television show, and the general will begin a nationwide promotional tour at a book store in Virginia.
That tour is going to be treated by most who follow it closely -- journalists, voters, candidates for president -- as the equivalent of the presidential campaign trail. Technically and legally it won't be. He may not have made up his mind yet if he wants to run. Even if he has, his publisher wouldn't let him admit it, thus limiting his ability to get free broadcast appearances (since other candidates might then demand the same thing).
But by presenting his life and his ideas to the public in his book, in Time and in interviews and speeches as he travels to some two dozen cities in September and October, General Powell will be doing exactly what presidential candidates do -- present, define and explain one's self to the public. As of now he is an empty vessel for many, in the issues/political philosophy sense. He hasn't even told the American voter which political party he considers his (though the widespread assumption is that he is sort of a New Deal Republican, like Dwight Eisenhower).
Vagueness explains in part his popularity. Once he begins to take a position on abortion, or the flat tax, or Medicare, some who say they like him but learn they disagree with him on specifics will begin to tell pollsters another story. Or so the conventional wisdom goes. General Powell's most ardent supporters believe that his character, his personal qualities, his life, his apparent non-political persona will shine through the fog of issues to many Americans tired and disbelieving of conventional politicians' words.
In any event, the general can afford to lose some of his popularity and still be a formidable presidential candidate. The latest Times-Mirror Poll shows him with a 62/17 favorable/unfavorable rating. The second best showing by any presidential candidate was Bob Dole's 49/38.