Powell pullout tells something about ourselves Violence, racism would have made a run dangerous

November 12, 1995|By Kimberly Crockett

THE PASSION AND commitment to run the race and succeed in the quest were not there for Colin Powell. The presidency, he said, was a calling he did not hear. And with that, private citizen Powell walked away from the presidential spotlight.

And there was relief, enormous relief that America had been spared another political assassination. The America that loves its Horatio Alger stories, that hails its war heroes and heralds its melting-pot society, is not ready for a black president. There is enough of a fringe element in American society that harbors racist attitudes and would undermine any attempt for diversity in the White House.

That's unfortunate because America could use a Colin Powell right now. We need a civil voice in these angry times. We need a moderate to still the extreme liberal and conservative voices. We need a military man to lead us through the global land mines. Mostly, we needed a president capable of bridging the racial and social chasms that divide us.

Awaiting a savior

Gen. Colin Powell could have been that man and the political polls say that many Americans were ready to anoint him the political savior, the one candidate who could rescue them from the partisan politics that has digressed into an uncivilized discourse.

But political romanticism aside, America remains a violent and racist country. For those who say race doesn't matter, think again.

Pundits declared Sen. Phil Gramm's candidacy dead almost as soon as it was launched, specifically citing that his Asian wife was a handicap.

As far as America has come, we still do not live in a color-blind society. We still live in a country where a racial hierarchy exists that acts as a gatekeeper to opportunities. The searing assaults on affirmative action and immigration are just another attempt to maintain that order.

But not all of America is like that. "In one generation, we have moved from denying a black man service at a lunch counter to elevating one to the highest military office in the nation and to being a serious contender for the presidency," Mr. Powell reminded us.

We may never know the impact a Powell presidential bid might have had on the Democratic and Republican parties.

However, the Powell love affair is indicative of America's impatience with the career politicians who say whatever it takes to get elected. It also helps to explain why are we so willing to elect a man to the presidency who has never run for public office and who hadn't declared a political party until 36 hours before this was written.

Mr. Powell's decision not to pursue elected office in 1996 leaves most Americans at a political crossroads. They are looking for a candidate who will fill the leadership vacuum that still exists one year after the Republican "revolution" and one year before the presidential and national elections.

Tuesday's national elections, where the Republicans didn't fare as well as predicted, may be one of the first signs that the GOP has a chink in its armor. And there are other signs that the Contract with America -- the linchpin of Republican success one year ago -- is now considered a weak link and could lead to some GOP shortfalls.

A bill of goods

When America was sold that bill of goods, politicians said it was to save our children's future, trim bureaucratic waste and help America recapture all her former red, white and blue glory by cutting taxes and transferring power to the states.

Basically what we have is the same old government, just a little smaller and with the same people -- students, veterans, farmers, the elderly, the poor and the disabled -- expected to get the short end of the stick.

The contract's cornerstones -- term limits and the balanced-budget amendment -- failed.

Are we any better off? Are we any more confident in our elected leaders? Is the will of the public being served? Mr. Powell's popularity says no.

So here America stands. We look to our left and we look to our right, not liking what we see. Now it's time to look within.

Kimberly Crockett is an editorial writer for the Phoenix Gazette.

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