Ike and Powell and Apple Pie, Liked by All
Sperling, Godfrey, The Christian Science Monitor
IT'S beginning to sound like 1952 and 1956, when Adlai Stevenson and the Democrats knew the voters wouldn't put up with attacks on their war hero, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Now it's another popular general, Colin Powell, who is getting the velvet-glove treatment and for much the same reason. No one is criticizing Powell, including President Clinton, who knows he may be facing the former head of the Joint Chiefs in the next election.
Some reporters at the recent Monitor lunch with the president were trying hard to persuade Mr. Clinton to take some digs at Powell. One columnist, who doubtless had her next day's story in mind, tried to lure the president with this question: "Mr. President, how do you explain the Colin Powell phenomenon?" Clinton, not to be drawn into that trap, chuckled and replied, "That's your job, not mine."
Then, following laughter from the assembled journalists, the reporter pleaded, "We need help." Still smiling, Clinton put an end to the subject, for the time being, with these words, "No, I'm the president; you're doing just fine."
Clinton knows that taking on Powell, even slightly, is like taking a poke at Mom or apple pie. Eisenhower got that free ride from criticism. Everyone "liked Ike." Or if they didn't, they never got even close to saying they didn't like him personally.
Powell, too, may be afforded that luxury - particularly if he doesn't personalize his own criticism of his adversary. That was Ike's way, too - he seldom spoke ill of his opponent. Indeed, he often acted as though his opponent didn't exist. That infuriated Stevenson and Truman, too, who had pushed the Illinois governor forward to run in his place in 1952.
But the reporters at the luncheon would not give up on their "Powell question." Ten minutes later, one of them tried it this way: "Mr. President. Even your severest critics acknowledge your commitment to civil rights. Do you think the country has changed enough that it would be ready to elect a black president?"
Here Clinton had something to say. …