The Powell conundrum

November 14, 1996|By Carl T. Rowan

WASHINGTON — WASSHINGTON -- The most celebrated new Republican, Gen. Colin Powell, has said he would entertain an offer to serve in the Cabinet of Democratic President Clinton.

At first blush that may seem like a marriage made in political heaven, a partnership at which Bill Clinton ought to leap.

Having General Powell come aboard would sure disarm those Republicans who have said that this president is of such bad character that he doesn't deserve to sit in the Oval Office.

When the general said ''You always listen to your president'' when possible public service is at issue, he was saying that the grandeur of the office is powerful, and that Mr. Clinton has not diminished the presidency to the point that a patriotic American would refuse his call.

The president was criticized in his first term for straining to make his Cabinet ''look like America.'' He could put a brown tint to his new Cabinet with General Powell without incurring cries that he has appointed some incompetent black man to a key job.

Among the many areas where Mr. Clinton needs help, if he is to ''secure his place in history,'' is in foreign policy. General Powell, with experience as national-security adviser to President Reagan and as chairman of the military Joint Chiefs of Staff, would add prestige to this administration.

As he seeks Republicans to help him deal with Congress on domestic problems, the president would have in General Powell a man who is in fundamental agreement with him on family issues, affirmative action and other social programs.

The president knows that American race relations need a lot of healing. His partnership with the general would be a glowing symbol of a national commitment to equality of opportunity within a society of mutual respect.

So logical

It all sounds so logical, does it not, that Mr. Clinton ought to announce before sunset his choice of General Powell to be his secretary of state or secretary of defense.

Well, it's not that simple.

Some advisers are telling Mr. Clinton that the top plums that he picks for any black person ought to go to those loyal African Americans who helped him to get 83 percent of the black vote. They are saying that it would be a terrible affront to the Rev. Jesse Jackson and others who stood up with and for the president (when angry blacks talked of abandoning him) for the president to now give the most glorious post to a black Republican who campaigned lustily for Bob Dole.

Those same advisers are telling Mr. Clinton that General Powell might find enough fire in his belly to run for president in the year 2000, with Vice President Gore as his likely opponent. Some thumb-suckers in the media already claim to know that Mr. Gore is telling the president not to give General Powell a prestigious platform from which he can leap into a challenge for the presidency.

Then there's the matter of a few Democratic loyalists, such as former Sens. George Mitchell and Sam Nunn, and United Nations Ambassador Madeleine Albright, thinking that they deserve the prestigious foreign-policy and national-security posts well ahead of General Powell or any other Republican.

What is a poor president to do?

Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 11/14/96

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