Colin Powell has announced he's supporting Barack Obama. He did it during an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press"; he then discussed the subject further afterwards, in a session with reporters outside of the studios.
The endorsement was neither ambiguous nor qualified. Powell began by expressing his admiration for both candidates. He then talked about the performance of the two, particularly in reaction to the financial crisis of the last few weeks. Powell called it a "final exam" of sorts, one Obama passed but McCain did not:
I found that [McCain] was a little unsure of how to deal with the economic problems that we were having. Almost every day there was a different approach to the problem. And that concerned me.
I was also concerned at the selection of Governor Palin. She is a very distinguished person and a she is to be admired. But at the same time, now that we've had a chance to watch her for some seven weeks, I don't believe she is ready to be president of the United States, which is the job of the vice president. And so that raised some question in my mind as to the judgment that Senator McCain made. ...
I watched Mr. Obama... he displayed a steadiness, an intellectual curiosity, a depth of knowledge and an approach to looking at problems like this, and picking a vice president that I think is ready to be president on day one. And also not just jumping in and changing every day but showing intellectual vigor. I think that he has a definitive way of doing business that would serve us well.
From there, Powell turned to the campaign that McCain and the Republicans have run, condemning efforts to paint Obama as a terrorist sympathizer or a socialist. "I understand what politics is all about," Powell said, "but this goes too far."
Powell seemed particularly angry about the accusation, stoked by some McCain supporters, that Obama is a Muslim--and not only because it's inaccurate.
The correct answer is 'He's not a Muslim. He's a Christian.' ... But the really right answer 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 seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she can be president?
Powell followed that statement with a story about fallen U.S. soldier who was Muslim. You can see it here at the end of the video clip.
During the press appearance afterwards, one reporter asked: "Are you still a Republican?" Powell said "yes."
It's easy to exaggerate the importance of endorsements. (And it's easy to exaggerate the importance of Powell.) Still, most Americans know and respect Colin Powell. That's got to help Obama and his supporters discredit attacks on Obama's patriotism. Plus it means yet another day, at least, of dominating the news cycle.
More TNR analysis of the Powell endorsement:
"Powell Repays The Neocons" by Michael Crowley
"What Powell's Endorsement Actually Accomplishes" by Noam Scheiber
"The Powell Endorsement: Overrated? Underrated?" by Nate Silver