What Colin Powell Also Said
His comments on Muslims in America bear repeating -- and repeating.
Washington Post, October 21, 2008; A16
NATURALLY, WHAT garnered the most attention on the day after former secretary of state Colin Powell's endorsement of Sen. Barack Obama was its political significance. But we hope that another message that Mr. Powell tucked into his endorsement isn't forgotten.
Like many people before him, Mr. Powell rebuked those who have spread or fed the rumor that Mr. Obama is Muslim, and like many before him Mr. Powell reiterated that the story is false -- that Mr. Obama is and always has been a Christian.
Mr. Powell then took the issue an important step further. "But the really right answer," Mr. Powell continued on NBC's "Meet the Press," "is, 'What if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?' The answer is no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some 7-year-old Muslim American kid believing that he or she could be president?"
When a supporter at a rally told Sen. John McCain that his opponent couldn't be trusted because he is an "Arab," Mr. McCain responded, "No, ma'am, he's a decent family man, a citizen, who I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues." A good answer as far as it went, but incomplete; what was missing was, "And what if he were Arab American? Is there any reason an Arab American shouldn't be president of this country?" Nor has it been easy for the Obama campaign to knock down the rumors without seeming to give credence to the idea that the rumors, if true, would be somehow disqualifying.
That's why Mr. Powell, unhindered by such calculations, deserves thanks for the lesson on tolerance. This is not, by its Constitution, a Christian country, or a Judeo-Christian country, or even a God-fearing country. It is a democracy where any "natural born Citizen" who has "attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States" can be president. We need all the talent we can attract to government, and we hope every 7-year-old girl or boy keeps that in mind, along with Mr. Powell's words.