Election 2012 and the Deep Racial Divide

From John Sununu's Colin Powell swipe to grim polls about racism, it's clear that hope and change is so 2008.

Monica Morgan/WireImage/Getty Images; Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images
Monica Morgan/WireImage/Getty Images; Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images

(The Root) — Last week, four-star retired general and former Secretary of State Colin Powell endorsed President Barack Obama’s re-election bid. Powell, a lifelong Republican, broke with his party ranks for the second time, having chosen Obama over fellow veteran John McCain in 2008.

Powell waited until after the candidates’ foreign policy debate to make the announcement, observing that President Obama got us “out of one war, started to get us out of a second war and did not get us into any new wars.” On Mitt Romney, Powell was reticent: “The governor who was saying things at the debate … was saying things that were quite different from what he said earlier. I’m not quite sure which Gov. Romney we’d be getting with respect to foreign policy.”

Powell — who first supported the war in Iraq but left the Bush administration after its failure to find weapons of mass destruction — is a proven statesman and war hero. “I don’t sense he’s thought through these things as thoroughly as he should have,” Powell said of Romney.

He also highlighted President Obama’s success in saving a diving economy and Romney’s lack of a fiscal plan beyond tax cuts that favor the wealthy. As for his party affiliation, Powell said, “I’m a Republican of a more moderate mold. That’s something of a dying breed, I’m sorry to say.”

Despite Powell’s reasonable, well-articulated explanation, John Sununu, co-chair of the Romney campaign, abruptly concluded that Powell endorsed Obama simply because both men are black.

“When you take a look at Colin Powell, you have to wonder whether that’s an endorsement based on issues or whether he’s got a slightly different reason for preferring President Obama,” Sununu told CNN. When asked to expound, he continued, “I think when you have somebody of your own race that you’re proud of being president of the United States — I applaud Colin for standing with him.”

Mary Curtis wrote this week in the Washington Post that Sununu’s reaction was to “reduce two complex men to skin color. Sununu can disagree with Obama because of policy, but when Powell supports him, it has to be race.”

Enter the race card — played by old white men in the Republican Party.