NPR logo The Myth Of Colin Powell's 'Obama's One Of Us' Vote

The Myth Of Colin Powell's 'Obama's One Of Us' Vote

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell speaks to Tom Brokaw during a taping of Meet the Press Sunday in Washington. Powell discussed his endorsement of Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama. Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images for Meet The Press hide caption

toggle caption
Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images for Meet The Press

To hear Rush Limbaugh tell it, it sounds like a scary story shared around the fire when he's at sleepaway camp in the "pro-America" parts of the country: Colin Powell, the once Trustable Brother? He's possessed! He's voting for Barack Obama!


Why? Because they're both black...ish. They've got that light-dark-skinned soul brother thing going on. It's the only, ONLY reason Powell is voting for Obama!

Though Limbaugh is an admitted satirist and I'm sure is just making ironic comment on Powell's eloquent, heartfelt, cogently explained reasons for supporting Obama.

By reducing those reasons to race. (Though, no, Powell hasn't endorsed any, as Limbaugh puts it, "inexperienced, very liberal, white candidates." He's just supported an inexperienced, very conservative, white candidate for years.)

Unfortunately, there might be a few people on the far, far right who don't get satire — the folks who did the 1/2 Hour News Hour, for example — who might actually buy into the nonsense that blacks are giving Obama "he's one of us" votes. That, in turn, forces me to take time from my busy schedule to prove the right wrong.

Limbaugh, and Pat Buchanan, too (whom I work with at MSNBC and who I will say is decent even when he's way wrong, so I will cut a little slack), make their "he's one of us" vote claim regarding Powell in particular (blacks in general) in spite of the fact that a person of color has run for the White House in every presidential election over the last 24 years: Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988. Gov. Douglas Wilder of Virginia in 1992. Former ambassador and conservative activist Alan Keyes of Maryland in 1996 and 2000. Former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois and the Rev. Al Sharpton of New York in 2004.

Plenty of opportunities for Powell and other blacks to willy-nilly support a brother (or a sister).

Conservatives may argue that, well, none of those candidates was even worth Powell's attention. But if Powell is — if blacks are — just going to vote for a "darkie," then won't any "darkie" do?

None carried the black vote to any significance. Certainly not Keyes. Not Wilder and Braun, arguably the most qualified candidates at that time. Jackson had some strong showings but could not come close to closing the deal.

And what about Sharpton? Shouldn't he be the closest comparison to Obama in terms of blacks just "giving him" their votes? Sharpton, too, gives a good speech, and he ran most recently.

In 2004, in the District of Columbia primary, Sharpton came in second to Howard Dean. D.C. at the time was 70 percent minority. Sixty percent black. Yet the minorities and the blacks "gave" their votes to Dean. In South Carolina, only 1 in 5 blacks voted for Sharpton.

Clearly — more important, factually — most blacks don't vote for blacks just because they are black.

This should have been evident in the early stages of Obama's campaign, when Sen. Hillary Clinton initially outpolled Obama among blacks, to the surprise of everyone except people of color, who knew going in we weren't a monolithic voting bloc. Should've been evident when blacks and liberals had to ask the inane question, "Is Obama black enough?" Even Michelle Obama was reduced to saying that one day black America would "wake up and get it" with regard to voting for her husband based on race.

Beyond the merit of that, or of any of those positions, it does not appear as though black America is handing Obama a "he's one of us" vote.

Rather, the majority of black Americans are giving their votes to the man who, as Powell said, has passed the tests of leadership, particularly over these past seven weeks.

I think the confusion is with the conservatives, who wouldn't cast their votes for someone who's not "one of us." They apply a very narrow litmus test — excluding the "macacas," or the "uppity," or people who don't come from those "pro-America" parts of the country. But that doesn't mean the rest of us — those who have a more open mind — necessarily vote for a candidate simply because he is "one of us."