Colin Powell: His Words Still Resonate

Today Colin Powell, the first Black US secretary of state, died from complications after contracting COVID-19. The tragedy of the pandemic layered upon the loss of a most vital American of our time makes this a very sad story.

The loss of Powell’s voice on the issues of our time will be missed. They were certainly ones that resonated on this blog over the years. We have always had in our nation, through the arc of history, solid men and women who spoke with gravitas when we most needed to hear their wisdom. Think Margaret Chase Smith.

From January 2013 and his appearance on Meet The Press he reflected on the previous November election and the campaign for president.

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 it Birther, the whole Birther Movement. Why do senior Republican leaders tolerate this kind of discussion within the Party? I think the Party has to take a look at itself.

It has to take a look at its responsibilities for health care. It has to take a look at immigration. It has to take a look at those less fortunate than us. The Party has gathered unto itself a reputation that it is the party of the rich. It is the party of lower taxes. But there are a lot of people who are lower down the food chain, the economic chain, who are also paying lots of taxes relative to their income and they need help. We need more education work being done in this country. We need a solid immigration policy. We have to look at climate change. There are a lot of things that the American people are expecting…..

I was perhaps most proud, however, of how Powell well understood the scope of history and grasped how anger and rancor is never, ever, a sound way to make national policy. That was clear with his opposition to the continued existence of the detention facility at Guantanamo.

Powell knew who we are as a nation cannot be separated from what we do as a nation. He regretted the fact repressive governments used Gitmo to deflect criticism of their own policies by charging hypocrisy. Violent extremists used it as a recruiting tool. It remains a symbol for many around the world of torture, injustice, and illegitimacy. 

The goal of terrorists is to change us, to change what we say we stand for, and to make us live in fear. As such, Powell like so many other educated people, wanted Gitmo to be shuttered.

Powell did have a stain on his career with his actions prior to the invasion of Iraq under President Bush in 2003. I do not marginalize the degree to which he aided in the lie that led to the greatest mistake created by American foreign policy in that region since 1947.

But the sum of Powell’s life can not be measured from that year and action, alone.

There are not many people in our land who can be summed up by saying they were a continuously dignified statesman and leader for truly dedicating their life to the nation. Powell was such a man.

His voice and reasoning will be missed by a nation that needs to have more adults with mature ideas speaking to the needs of our time.

And so it goes.