The great unanswered question about the Powell phenomenon is this: Why is he so popular with the American people? And why is he especially attractive to a majority of conservative voters?
After all, with the media focusing on all the reasons why he should be a Democrat, or at least an Independent, one would think that this apparent ambiguity would have been enough to make people lose confidence in their enthusiasm. Not so. Powell’s popularity remained very high through out the whole process. Indeed, it reached its heights with his announcement that he would not run, but is a Republican, and would work for the Republican candidate.
The media’s explanation of his popularity was misleading at best and disingenuous at worst. They claimed that he was popular because people had come to question the wisdom of making the Republicans the majority party in Congress. The people were not as conservative as they seemed; they recognized the folly of their votes of 1994. Too many opinion polls were thrown at us proving, once again, the people’s fickleness.
In fact the people, in my opinion, had not budged from the conservative position. Indeed, I believe their position has hardened. The people understand that Congress is now on its way toward re-orienting the priorities, size, and even purpose of the national government. Further, they understand that this is no temporary shift. They understand that this march toward a smaller, less expensive, more constitutional government, will continue. Although they used to think that electing a conservative president was sufficient toward that end, by 1994 they learned that this was the wrong way to go about changing policy.
Because they think that the general policy direction that has been set by the GOP Congress will continue, the people are now thinking about larger issues that will have to be addressed.
We are becoming increasingly concerned that the ideas upon which we were founded, and upon which we have prospered, are in disarray. We sense that there is a Balkanization taking place in the society. Although no longer sure of what binds us together as a people, we are encouraged to talk about ourselves as if what is important is our participation in various communities.
Furthermore, we are becoming especially concerned about the serious breakdown of those virtues which we know in our hearts are necessary if we are to remain a free and self-governing people. Families slouch toward dissolution, children have children, public education lurches toward collapse. We are overwhelmed in our daily lives with the obscene and the ignoble.
Along comes this son of an immigrant, a tall black man, a man of dignity who is not afraid to talk about restoring shame in our society. A man with the kind of character that rekindles what is still best in us. He speaks in straightforward American terms, the kind that recall ancient virtues.
Such a man, should he be president under a new Republican realignment, would serve a different purpose for the country than does Congress. It would not be a purpose that would cross the policies adopted by Congress, rather it would complement and complete them. We sensed that this son of America would in his person remind us of the dignity and value of our country.
Peter Schramm is Professor of Political Science at Ashland University and Director of Special Programs at the Ashbrook Center.