Obama Speaks Out on Powell Endorsement (Updated Re George Will on Race)

Barack Obama welcomed the endorsement of Colin Powell at a North Carolina rally on Sunday, linking the decorated veteran to soldiers serving today.

"With so many brave men and women from Fayetteville serving in our military, this is a city and a state that knows something about great soldiers," he told the crowd, according to remarks released by the campaign. "And this morning, a great soldier, a great statesman, and a great American has endorsed our campaign to change America. I have been honored to have the benefit of his wisdom and counsel from time to time over the last few years, but today, I am beyond honored and deeply humbled to have the support of General Colin Powell," said Obama.

Obama benefited from some of Powell's wisdom on Sunday morning, when the two spoke for about ten minutes. Robert Gibbs, a senior aide to the senator, said Obama told Powell that "he looked forward to taking advantage of his advice in the next two weeks and hopefully over the next four years."

At the rally, Obama also cited Powell's leadership as an inspiration for a spirit of service and community that transcends old divisions -- which Powell discussed as one of Obama's strengths during his Meet The Press endorsement.

"General Powell has defended this nation bravely, and he has embodied our highest ideals through his long and distinguished public service. He and his wife Alma have inspired millions of young people to serve their communities and their country through their tireless commitment and trailblazing American story," said Obama. "And he knows, as we do, that this is a moment where we all need to come together as one nation - young and old, rich and poor, black and white, Republican and Democrat."

UPDATE: I must add that it is truly saddening to see some conservatives respond to Gen. Powell's endorsement by impugning his decision with baseless personal attacks, or recklessly suggesting that race helps Obama's campaign, instead of responding to the Powell news for what it is -- the bombshell of a former senior Bush national security official endorsing the opposing party's nominee. (For more, see Sam Stein's report that Rush Limbaugh and George Will took those tacks on Sunday.)

Now Powell's endorsement may get Mr. Will thinking about "race," but thankfully most of the American public sees Powell differently, on the merits, as a decorated military leader and statesman. As I wrote on Friday, Powell remains the most respected person ever to serve in the unpopular Bush administration. That is precisely because most people assess his views and character based on his record. Other major national security figures in Bush's cabinet, from Don Rumsfeld to Condi Rice, have unfavorable ratings that quadruple Powell's. Yes, voters can tell Rice and Powell apart, even though they are both Republican secretaries of state who happen to be black. By the logic of Limbaugh and Will, however, that Rice endorsement should be just around the corner.

Finally, for further reading: I assessed the role of Powell, Rice and Obama in our segregated power structure in this Nation essay. It's long, but it explores the way some observers, like Will, misunderstand the challenges facing racial minorities in politics and government.