You can always tell when Bush thinks he might be in trouble, because out comes Colin Powell to calm the white liberals and get the blacks off the president's backespecially now that the Republican right is working hard to fortify its base for the election, and once again, as it does every four years, dreams of recruiting minorities.
These days, however, Powell must struggle not to sound like some scratchy wind-up doll. After suckering people with his UN speech, which turned out to have been inaccurate, the secretary of state opined recently that had he known what he knows now, maybe he would have thought twice about going to war. Golly gee, General, really?
Last week, Powell tried hard to regain the righteous high road with testimony in Congress, but when Ohio congressman Sherrod Brown mentioned Bush's AWOL problems as an aside in one question, Powell sprang into a generalissimo pose, ordering Brown, "Don't go there," as if the congressman were some dumb enlisted peon.
Then, as Powell was ruminating about how hard he tried to understand the pre-war intelligence"I went to live at the CIA for four days"he broke off and stared at a committee staff person sitting behind the congresspeople. "Are you shaking your head for something, young man, back there?" Powell intoned. "Are you part of these proceedings?"
Sherrod Brown, who has been in Congress 12 years, jumped to the staffer's defense: "Mr. Chairman, I've never heard a witness reprimand a staff person in the middle of a question."
Powell snapped, "I seldom come to a meeting where I am talking to a congressman and I have people aligned behind you giving editorial comment by head shakes."
Powell just doesn't seem to get it. He's not in some army camp. This is the people's house, and any member of Congress can ask whatever he or she pleases.
Who does Powell think he is? Douglas MacArthur?
Additional reporting: Ashley Glacel and Alicia Ng
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