To me, this is tremendously significant. I attended a speech by General Powell in February of 2007. There are very, very few people on the planet who can say that they have had access to the information he has had; who have traversed the inner circles and corridors of power that he has traveled. In short, he is one of the most informed people out there on geopolitics and the internal workings of the Bush administration.
Truly informed. Please consider the full significance of this. We, the general public, cannot possibly make as informed a decision as this man can because we simply don't have access to classified military material. Since leaving the Bush administration after the first round, sure, he's not as current as his successor, Condoleezza Rice, but he's still way ahead of those of us who can only do our best to sift through sources from the media and the 'net.
And he's saying that he feels that Barack Obama -- not John McCain, who has played up his years of experience -- is the right candidate to lead America forward.
Think about it further: Obama needs Powell a whole lot more than Powell needs Obama. Powell is doing very well for himself on the paid lecture circuit. He's been Secretary of State already. Of course I don't know him, but I can't imagine any position that Obama could offer him that he would particularly desire ... he's been there and done that. Okay, he can be an adviser, but is that meaningful in terms of status?
So, given that Powell had nothing to gain by giving this endorsement, and that he could lose stature with Republicans who may now consider him disloyal, I'd take it pretty seriously. I don't think he would have done it unless he believed it to be true; he certainly had nothing to lose by staying silent.
I find it offensive that some people will believe it has to do with race. Powell is far, far too smart and influential for that to be a factor. Did I support Hillary Clinton because she was a woman? Nope. I actively posted why I felt it would be a tactical mistake to elect her. Powell isn't going to support someone he thinks is the wrong choice just because of a racial commonality, and it's insulting to imply that. For comparison, I don't recall him ever supporting Jesse Jackson. I'd really like to see someone try to make a researched, factual case for that, because I find it completely implausible, to the point of saying, "Don't be silly - that's ridiculous."
There have long been rumors that Powell himself would run as a Republican candidate, but that his wife didn't want him to because she was afraid he'd be assassinated. I don't live in the Powell household and have no idea whether those rumors are fact or fiction, but I do know that the man has given a lifetime of service to this country. Indeed, he's 71 years old, so he and John McCain are just about the same age. Both have served, and both have witnessed the same span of events in history. If you look at it from that perspective, Powell has more in common with McCain: both come from a military background; they're about the same age, and both are Republicans. Indeed, they have reportedly been friendly for twenty years. But Powell's endorsing Obama, so he must have a pretty important reason why, and he must feel pretty strongly about it to say it out loud.
Powell is a respected figure, and I hope that certain Republicans who won't listen to anybody else will at listen to him. I'm not talking about the zealots: they're voting for faith-related issues, and are not likely to be swayed by pragmatism concering military and domestic issues. But for those voters who are concerned about our foreign policy, I'm hoping that Powell's knowledgeable, experienced voice will make a difference. If he says Obama can handle it, then I believe he means it.