The Right Job for Colin Powell

Article excerpt

The General was right. Neither Colin Powell nor his family needed the baggage of presidential politics. Digging into Alma Powell's background was only the beginning. Republican opponents, the media and, if nominated, the Democrats, were only warming up. And, as New York Times columnist Bob Herbert said, he was hanging out with the wrong crowd, anyway. To heck with George Will's 22 questions and Paul Tsongas and others declaring Powell history.

So leave diplomacy and defense to others inside the Beltway; leave politics to its narrow and dirty arena. There is a higher calling for Colin Powell, one that would serve all the interests he articulated during his brief encounter with the presidential race.

There is almost universal agreement that Powell has the ability to lead. If not, what was all the commotion about the last few months? He has the qualities we yearn for in a national leader: character, strength, solid family values, sense of purpose, the ability to get diverse groups to work together; in a word, all the things many Americans find lacking in the other guys.

Therefore, instead of trying to be President or Vice President of the United States, why shouldn't Powell take on one of the most important jobs in the country - executive Director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People?

That could happen with no one missing a beat. Powell would maintain the high esteem he now enjoys from the public. He would attract more press attention since Roy Wilkins headed the NAACP. While many reporters would insist on calling him a "black leader" - to his consternation - he has shown he is way beyond the restrictions of that label.

His main task would be the same as expected of him as President, to bring us all together, to mobilize us in trying to solve the nation's most intractable social problem, race, a solution that will elude us well into the 21st Century because, "we do not wish to find it," according to John Hope Franklin, the historian. Seeking a solution fits neatly into Powell's personal aspirations as well as the NAACP's historical mission,

In that position, Powell could resuscitate the moribund civil rights movement and change the course of history, the direction the nation is headed in race relations, ushering in a new period, the Powell Era. The NAACP and the rest of the rights community have been floundering for decades in the face of expanding right-wing influence, deepening racism and growing racial animosity. The NAACP needs a man of Powell's stature to deal with increasing internal friction over the future of school desegregation, as if money were not enough of a problem. Some local chapter heads are challenging the national charter on busing and the idea of integration itself, one of the foundations of the organization.

Most white Americans are not and do not want to be party to rampant racism; they are open to multi-racial ideals and would gladly follow the right leaders. This was what they expected from General Powell's flirtation with presidential politics, the kind of leadership on race most people have been yearning for years.

As NAACP head, Colin Powell would be able to calm the strident rhetoric, cool the passions of all races - maybe even soothe the Angry White Male - and bring back the type coalitions of groups needed to deal effectively with racial issues. Jesse Jackson could retain his Rainbow Coalition, even run for president again, if he chose to do so. But Jackson would be forced to deal with Powell as head of the nation's biggest and oldest rights organization. Louis Farrakhan would still be out there, but would be less of a factor than he is now. All would have to fall in line or lose the support of many of their constituents.

And we in the media would love it. lots to cover and write about. In its glory days, the NAACP was great to cover. That was how many of us got onto big city dailies and mainstream media in the first place. …