The Campaign Spot

Colin Powell Loses Faith

This and that from this morning’s Jolt . . .

Sunday: “Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who endorsed Democrat Barack Obama for president in 2008 despite serving three Republican presidents, said Sunday that Obama needs to change his approach in the White House because voters are feeling overwhelmed by sweeping new laws that expand the scope of government. ‘The president also has to . . . shift the way in which he has been doing things,’ Powell said on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press.’ ‘The American people feel that too many programs have come down. There are so many rocks in our knapsack now that we’re having trouble carrying it.’”

You’re probably scoffing at how milquetoast that is, but inside-the-Beltway, this is a big deal. Colin Powell doesn’t go on these Sunday morning programs unless he wants to, and he doesn’t appear unless he has something to say. Powell could have easily demurred, murmured soothing sounds about the difficulty of governing in the modern age with the 24-7 news cycle and expressed confidence that, in time, the wisdom of the president’s decisions would be clear. Mild as Powell’s criticism is, by Washington standards, we just witnessed the political equivalent of the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval leaping out of a moving vehicle in desperation.

Of course, he had to genuflect to the Stations of Conventional Wisdom: “Colin Powell, former Secretary of State under President George W. Bush, said Republicans shouldn’t cater to ‘fringe elements’ who question the president’s religion or whether he was born in the U.S. ‘Let’s attack him on policy and not nonsense,’ Powell said on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ program. Powell, who endorsed Obama for president in 2008, said he remains a Republican, although he’s ‘not happy with the rightward shift’ the party has taken.” At this point, the Birthers and the is-Obama-a-Muslim stories’ purpose is not to undermine Obama; the purpose of the mainstream media’s coverage of those stories is to undermine the policy-based criticisms of the president . . .

A wise strategist — no, not Obi-Wan — told me a while back that the easiest way to change the perception of something is to change the reality of that something. In other words, if a politician has a reputation for being dumb, the best way to change that is not to try to spin coverage to argue that the politician is smart, but instead is to have the politician actually do something smart. Every day, Americans are deluged with one attempt at spin after another, through advertising, through news coverage, through conversations, through their mailboxes, through their online social networks, etc., and the vast majority of it all gets tuned out. If Obama suddenly started reading Reagan speeches verbatim but kept the same liberal policies and personnel in place, it wouldn’t make much difference. (Okay, we would enjoy listening to the speeches more.) . . .

ADDENDA: Olliander’s blog notices Delaware Democrat Senate candidate Chris Coons altering his message to the audience in front of him. When he’s writing to liberal diehards on Daily Kos, he declares, “We cannot let Joe Biden’s seat fall into ultraconservative hands.” When speaking to the state’s voters, he says, “It’s often said that this is Joe Biden’s seat. It’s not. It’s Delaware’s seat.” 

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