Remember when, for a time, the conventional wisdom was that if we were going to have an African-American president in our lifetime, it would be retired Gen. Colin Powell?

I was reminded of this last Sunday while watching “Meet the Press.” Powell was a guest on the NBC show, and I was captivated listening to his civil discourse with host David Gregory. A large part of Powell’s appeal is his firm but friendly presentation that commands respect, and it helps tremendously that he always sounds like he knows what he’s talking about because his opinions seem well thought out.

Sounds like the man who did become the first African-American president, doesn’t it? But I digress.

Powell provided thoughtful insight into some of today’s issues during his Sunday morning set. In my opinion, his best commentary was about the tea party movement and the (not necessarily related) divisive rhetoric in politics today.

“I think it is a fascinating change in our political life to see this kind of movement gain such momentum and strength,” Powell said of the tea party movement. “And this is good. People want to see this. But at the same time, this movement doesn’t become a real force until it starts to talk to the issues. I want to cut spending. I want to have lower taxes. But how do you do that? You can’t just have slogans. … You have to have an agenda.”

Powell cautioned that the tea party movement could follow in the short-lived footsteps of the Reform Party if it doesn’t come up with some real, doable solutions to the problems it seeks to fix.

“We all believe in the Constitution, we all want lower taxes, we all want less spending, lower deficit, everything else, more freedom,” Powell said. “But at the same time, how do you get all of that and at the same time make sure that we are investing in our children, investing in our infrastructure? How do we bring the deficit down by cutting spending, and where do we cut that spending? It’s not enough to just say, ‘Let’s do it.’”

Powell also was spot-on when discussing some of the more ridiculous character attacks being levied against President Obama. If you disagree with his policies, then feel free to criticize them based on their merits or lack thereof. But there is no constructive reason to just make up things in an attempt to discredit the president.

“Think carefully about some of the stuff that is coming across the blogs and the airwaves,” Powell said. “Let’s make a couple of points. One, the president was born in the United States of American. Let’s get rid of that one, let’s get rid of the birth thing. Let’s attack him on policy, not nonsense. Next, he is a Christian. He is not a Muslim. Twenty percent of the people say he is a Muslim, 80 percent of the people apparently do not believe he’s a Muslim.”

As usual, what Powell says makes sense. It’s just too bad there is a sizable contingent of people who don’t want to hear what he has to say because of his involvement with the Bush administration (Democrats) or his later disavowing of it (Republicans).

And sadly, some people just don’t want to listen to anyone who speaks common sense.

This column was also published in the Sept. 23 issue of Ottawa Delivered.

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