Why Almost Everybody Loves Colin Powell

Article excerpt

Mention the name Colin Powell to just about anyone in Washington these days and you are sure to evoke one powerful emotional response. Jealousy.

Let's face it, in the cutthroat world of power and politics, Powell's got the right stuff. And everyone--the press, the politicians, the public--knows it when they see it. A hero's charisma. Strong good looks. A keen intellect. And most important, a personal story that is every man's, woman's and child's vision of the American Dream. An image-maker's dream. The competition's nightmare.

And if the Republicans and Democrats are lying awake at night worrying about Colin Powell, it's because don't know where he's coming from, let alone where he's going. Where he's going is important. Because he just might be taking the rest of the nation with him. Where he's coming from is critical because it just might determine whether he gets the chance to lead the country.

What does he stand for? What does he believe? Which major political party will he support? Will he join either? Will he remain independent at probably the best time in the last 50 years for an independent candidacy? Powell is only now beginning to give some clues. A career military man, a highly decorated combat veteran and a natural-born fighter, Colin Powell knows you don't Kin by telegraphing your punches.

So for now he's content to let others float the "Powell for president" political trial balloons. For now, the man known in Washington as "General Electric" is more than happy to immerse himself in the rhythms of civilian life: "playing granddad" to his son's two little boys ("My latest assignment is to teach the oldest how to ride a two-wheeler."), traveling the country delivering inspirational speeches (they go for as much as $60,000 apiece) and promoting his long-awaited autobiography, My American Journey (for which he is said to have received a cool $6 million).

It is a figure that Powell doesn't disclose or dispute. "I'm not at liberty to confirm it because of contractual reasons," he says. "But it is a number in that range and it is not that far off."

By his own admission, money was one of the reasons Powell decided to pen his memoirs when he retired from the Army in 1993. "There was a very attractive set of offers put on the table that you would have to be kind of stupid not to think about," he says. "And after 35 years of government service, I was anxious to achieve some financial security for my family, not knowing how long I'm going to be around."

If the American public has its way, the 58-year-old Powell won't just be around, for he'll be at the center of the upcoming race for the White House. As a recent poll conducted by both Republicans and Democrats revealed, since Powell retired, his approval ratings among registered voters have climbed to an eye-popping 71 percent. Clearly, for millions of Americans, the future of the nation comes down to a central equation: CP=PC. Colin Powell is politically correct.

How did the country get here? The point where Americans old and young, rich and poor Black and White, are pouring the elixir of their hopes and dreams into the Colin cup. For one thing, he satisfies the country's yearning for an independent-minded champion, a political hero who can stand tall above the fray at a time when trust of government and politicians is as at an all-time low. For another, because so little is known about his beliefs, he is a blank canvas on which Americans can paint their dreams.

At the heart of the answer is also his inspirational, made-for-the-movies life story, an oft-told, modern-day Horatio Alger tale. Born in Harlem to Jamaican immigrants, Powell climbed from the streets of the South Bronx--where he grew up unsure of himself, his ambitions or his future--to the top of the U.S. military.

Along the way, he earned trophies reserved for heroes: five combat medals, including the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. Two presidential medals of freedom. …