Former Secretary of State Colin Powell said he is "troubled" by the direction fellow Republican John McCain's presidential campaign is taking and that's why he will be voting for Democrat Barack Obama, during a surprising announcement on Sunday's Meet the Press. He described both candidates as "patriotic," "distinguished" and "capable of being president" but said McCain is not focused on the real problems facing American citizens right now. Powell's main concern is the current economic crisis, something he believes the Arizona senator is not prepared to handle.
"I have especially watched over the last six of seven weeks as both of them have really taken a final exam with respect to this economic crisis that we are in and coming out of the conventions. And I must say that I've gotten a good measure of both," he told MTP host Tom Brokaw.
"In the case of Mr. McCain, I found that he was a little unsure as to deal with the economic problems that we were having and almost every day there was a different approach to the problem. And that concerned me, sensing that he didn't have a complete grasp of the economic problems that we had."
He also had concerns about McCain's selection of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate and his focus on Obama's religious and social affiliations.
"[Palin is] a very distinguished woman, and she's to be admired; but at the same time, now that we have had a chance to watch her for some seven weeks, I don't believe she's ready to be president of the United States, which is the job of the vice president," Powell said.
"And so that raised some question in my mind as to the judgment that Senator McCain made. I've also been disappointed, frankly, by some of the approaches that Senator McCain has taken recently, or his campaign ads, on issues that are not really central to the problems that the American people are worried about. This Bill Ayers situation that's been going on for weeks became something of a central point of the campaign.
"But Mr. McCain says that he's a washed-out terrorist. Well, then, why do we keep talking about him? And why do we have these robocalls going on around the country trying to suggest that, because of this very, very limited relationship that Senator Obama has had with Mr. Ayers, somehow, Mr. Obama is tainted. What they're trying to connect him to is some kind of terrorist feelings. And I think that's inappropriate."
Ayers, a former 1960s anti-war activist, cofounded the radical left organization the Weather Underground, which conducted a campaign of bombing public buildings during the 1960s and 1970s. He worked with Obama on education reform and served together on the board of an anti poverty group in the state of Illinois.
Powell, who left President George W. Bush's administration in 2005, still identifies himself as a Republican despite the Obama endorsement.
But, he said, "I'm an American, first and foremost."
"I've said to my beloved friend and colleague John McCain, a friend of 25 years, 'John, I love you, but I'm not just going to vote for you on the basis of our affection or friendship.'"
However, Powell- who himself was said to have had an opportunity to become the country's first African American president in the mid 90s- also emphasized that fact that he is not voting for Obama simply because he is black.
"If that was the case, I would have done that six to eight or ten months ago. I've said to Barack Obama, 'I admire you. I'll give you all the advice I can. But I'm not going to vote for you just because you're black,'" " he said.
"However, I cannot deny the historical events that are taking place in America…Mr. Obama has given us a more inclusive, broader reach into the needs and aspirations of our people. I think he is a transformational figure, crossing ethnic lines, racial lines, generational lines. He has both style and substance–he has met the standard of being a successful president, being an exceptional president."