Most endorsements are meaningless — after all, who really cares that Obama landed Lady Gaga, and that Romney yesterday scored the coveted support of Meat Loaf? But one endorser who clearly matters is Colin Powell.

We know this, simply because Team Romney saw fit last night to attack him. And what an ugly and phony attack it was.

 

But let's start at the beginning. Early yesterday, the retired general — one of the most popular public figures in America (at last glance, a 70 percent approval rating) — surfaced on TV to tender his endorsement of President Obama. Powell, a moderate Republican in an era when moderation is anathema to Republicans, had also endorsed Obama in 2008, so his second nod was not a particularly big surprise.

But he coupled his praise for Obama's track record with a scathing putdown of Romney's non-existent foreign policy credentials. He said of Romney, "I don't sense he has thought through these issues as thoroughly as he should have." And when asked whether he has concerns about the candidate's foreign policy advisers, he replied, "I think there are some very, very strong neo-conservative views that are presented by the governor that I have trouble with."

In other words, Powell doesn't like the fact that Romney's foreign policy team is heavily infested with the same Bush neo-conservatives who conned and blustered America into a needless invasion of Iraq, a war has wasted more than 100,000 lives, a war that was financed on the national credit card to the tune of at least one trillion dollars. Team Romney doesn't want the voters to hear such things. Not at a time when the candidate is trying to present himself as a credible commander-in-chief.

So last night, Romney campaign co-chairman John Sununu's first priority was to ignore the substance of Powell's remarks. He did that by playing the race card.

On CNN, Sununu mused: "You have to wonder whether that’s an endorsement based on issues, or that he’s got a slightly different reason for (backing) President Obama." Host Piers Morgan then asked, "What reason would that be?" Sununu then unleashed the money quote:

"Well, I think that 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."

Translation: Powell endorsed Obama only because they'e both black. Those blacks sure stick together, and Sununu applauds them for it.

So much for the Romney camp's moderate veneer; how easily it swims in the swamp when the mood strikes. Sununu's spin was not only racist, it was nonsensical. Presumably, all the white notables who have endorsed Romney have done so for reasons they believe to be substantive, and not because they happen to share Romney's Caucasion pedigree. And Powell, after his 50 years of public service, has presumably earned the right to be judged on the substance of his reasoning, and not on whether he and the endorsee share the same skin color.

Four years ago, it was Rush Limbaugh who infamously said that Powell had not earned the right to be judged on substance, that Powell was siding with Obama because that's what the brothers do. This time, Rushthink has permeated the top precincts of the Romney camp.

But wait. . . the Romney camp, in an effort to patch its moderate veneer, has now sought to Etch-a-Sketch Sununu's original remark. It has rushed out a new statement, attributed to Sununu: "I do not doubt that (the Powell endorsement) was based on anything but his support of the president’s policies."

Funny, that's the opposite of what Sununu originally said. His first impulse was to bond with the bottom feeders who often infest right-wing websites. Here are some samplings, posted immediately after Powell endorsed Obama (you may want to spray some air freshener): "Color is thicker than water" and "What you do expect? it's not like Obama changed color these past 4 years! Powell is a traitor." and "Birds of a feather. Affirmative action guys got to stand together."

Romney's co-chairman was in the swim with those folks, until it became imperative to spin anew. Indeed, Powell's substantive reasons were obvious. Perhaps most importantly, he remembers all too well how he got sandbagged by Bush's neo-cons during the prelude to Iraq; as Secretary of State, he was dispatched to the United Nations to make the phony case for war, brandishing phony WMD intelligence. Today, he understands how those same neo-cons might be able to manipulate another president with zero foreign policy experience. One such international disaster was enough for him.

That's reality. Sununu, by playing the race card, sought to obscure it. Pass me the air freshener.

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