Bowing Out: Powell’s Announcement
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JIM LEHRER: We begin with extended excerpts from Colin Powell’s news conference in Alexandria, Virginia, this afternoon.
GEN. COLIN POWELL, (RET.): I know that this is the right decision for me. It was not reached easily or without a great deal of personal anguish. For me and my family, saying no was even harder than saying yes. I will remain in private life and seek other ways to serve. I have a deep love for this country that has no bounds. I will find other ways to contribute to the important work needed to keep us moving forward. I know my decision will disappoint many who have supported me.
I thank them, once again, from the bottom of my heart, and I ask for their understanding. I also know that my actions in taking the time to reach this decision has created an enormous level of expectation and anticipation. But I needed the time to give this the most careful study. I will continue to speak out forcefully in the future on the issues of the day, as I have been doing in recent weeks. I will do so as a member of the Republican Party and try to assist the party in broadening its appeal. I believe I can help the party of Lincoln move once again closer to the spirit of Lincoln. I will give my talent and energy to charitable and educational activities.
I will also try to find ways for me to help heal the racial divides that still exist within our society. Finally, let me say how honored I am that so many of you thought me worthy of your support. It says more about America than it says about me. In one generation, we have moved from denying a black man service at a lunch counter to elevating one to the highest military office in the nation and to being a serious contender for the Presidency. This is a magnificent country, and I am proud to be one of its sons. Thank you very much. Mr. Donaldson.
SAM DONALDSON: General, you say it’s a calling you did not feel, but some people are going to say that you backed away from the fight you should have made because as a general used to having your way, and not used to be criticized, and in the hurly-burly, the down-and-dirty of American politics, you just didn’t have the stomach for it.
GEN. COLIN POWELL, (RET.): I understand the down and dirty of American politics, and that’s the way it should be. I mean, you should run this test of fire if you wish this highest office. But at this point in my life, and knowing what I know about myself, my talent, my energies, and what I’m capable of doing, this was not the right thing for me to do at this time.
REPORTER: Could the moment ever come again?
GEN. COLIN POWELL, (RET.): Well, you know, the future is the future. At the moment, it’s the right thing for me at this time. Yes.
REPORTER: Yes, General. You mentioned you’re not going to be seeking any office. Have you ruled out the prospect of being on the vice-presidential–being a vice-presidential candidate? Have you discussed that with Sen. Dole or any other candidate?
GEN. COLIN POWELL, (RET.): I have ruled it out.
REPORTER: What do you think of the conservative opposition that surfaced publicly last week?
GEN. COLIN POWELL, (RET.): Well, I expected opposition, conservative opposition to some of the views I took, and it has come, but I have also received some support from conservatives that essentially said the party ought to be broad enough to, to accept and listen to many views. The particular meeting last week that you’re talking about, the views expressed concerning my views, I expected to get. We all should be concerned, however, about the nature of that meeting and the nature of the attack. When you move away from just disagreeing with somebody’s views and you move into ad hominem attacks to destroy character, you’re adding to the incivility that exists in our political life right now, which we ought to do something about.
REPORTER: Gen. Powell.
GEN. COLIN POWELL, (RET.): Yes, sir.
REPORTER: You said that you would enter in the future, or you will continue speaking out as a Republican. Why as a Republican? Why–what is in that philosophy that appeals to you that doesn’t appeal to you on the Democratic side?
GEN. COLIN POWELL, (RET.): I’m very impressed by what the Republican Party is trying to do right now, trying to put the nation on a better fiscal balance, trying to bring government under control and make government smaller, trying to put more money back into the pocket of individual taxpayers, and I believe that they have ideas and energy at this time that I can align with. There are some aspects of the agenda of the Republican Party that I disagree with, and I have said so, and I will continue to speak out. And I hope the party can broaden its appeal to appeal to the greatest number of Americans possible. But that’s where I think my interests lie and my politics lie. Yes, Gene.
REPORTER: Did the criticism of you and your positions and your character play any role in your decision not to run?
GEN. COLIN POWELL, (RET.): No. I can’t get excited when somebody who never served in the military jumps up and attacks me for my 35 years of service. And so that didn’t bother me particularly. And, frankly, I was pleased that a number of right conservatives, as they may be called, were somewhat supportive, not agreeing with me, but supportive of my entering into the debate and into the dialogue. So that rolled off my back. Yes.
REPORTER: You said many times that you were fearful of the Republicans’ Contract With America as being too harsh. How do you see the Republican Party as it’s now shaping up, particularly now they’re cutting–they’re going to change welfare, they’re going to change Medicare, they’re going to change Medicaid, what are your thoughts on those viewpoints?
GEN. COLIN POWELL, (RET.): The harshness I spoke of and which I will continue to speak of is that we have to be absolutely sure that we have on our mind at all times that with these changes we are fundamentally changing the social safety net people have relied upon. And at the end of this chain, there are children who may be in need and at risk. Yes, sir.
REPORTER: You talked about family sacrifices. Was your personal security a factor, and could we ask your wife that question too?
GEN. COLIN POWELL, (RET.): I, I have no concerns about my personal security. I travel widely around the country, usually by myself, and I–I had no particular concerns.
MRS. POWELL: I think everybody has known that I have had a concern but I want you to know that it’s certainly played no part in his decision.
REPORTER: How do you feel now about the decision?
MRS. POWELL: It was one that we reached together as a team, as we have for 33 years. And I am very supportive. Thank you.
REPORTER: The assassination this last weekend, and you came toward a decision, did that weigh in?
MRS. POWELL: No. It was a deep tragedy, one that is–has great effect on the world at large, and it’s certainly something that we ought to consider about the feeling that exists in the world against leaders and people who are trying to accomplish something in the face of peace.
REPORTER: It certainly must have spotlighted the danger for public figures such as your husband.
MRS. POWELL: Yes, indeed, it did, but it just simply points up that that always exists but did not play a part in the decision.
REPORTER: Many Americans who respect you greatly will reach the conclusion from this that you have to be out of your mind to seek the presidency.
GEN. COLIN POWELL, (RET.): No. No. Let me say first of all, this gives me a chance to say I applaud and congratulate those candidates who are out there now fighting for the right to be President of the United States. And we should be proud that such people do come forward and always have come forward. It is a needed process. You have to have that kind of fighting and debate. It’s called democracy. I would say to the American people that they should start to draw the line, however, on some of the incivility that we see in our national debate and in our political debate. We have to start remembering that I’m very fond of saying we are all a family, we have to work together. Yes, sir.
REPORTER: To the question of the down-and-dirtiness of politics, in the last week we saw published reports about your wife receiving medication for depression. Was that beyond the pale? What’s that say about–
GEN. COLIN POWELL, (RET.): No. My wife has depression. She’s had it for many, many years, and we have told many people about it. It is not a family secret. It is very easily controlled with proper medication, just as my blood pressure is sometimes under control with proper medication.
REPORTER: Sir, when you said wanted the Republican Party to broaden its tent, I assume you’re talking in a Lincoln way about minorities.
GEN. COLIN POWELL, (RET.): Yes.
REPORTER: Why do you think the Republican Party–
GEN. COLIN POWELL, (RET.): Well, they don’t. I mean–because a very large percentage of blacks don’t believe the Republican Party appeals to them, and they vote consistently Democratic. And I think it would be in the interest of minorities, and especially for African-Americans, to have other choices. And I think it would be an important thing for the Republican Party to broaden its appeal, and a number of leaders of the Republican Party have said the same thing, so that African-Americans have two sets of issues to look at, two sets of power bases to look at, and not just believe that the only choice for them is the Democratic Party.
REPORTER: Aside from the security considerations, did you rule out in your own mind the role of First Lady of the United States, and what were your thoughts about becoming First Lady, about the role for yourself?
MRS. POWELL: Well, it certainly is a flattering thing to think of, that people would think you were capable of doing such a thing, however, it is not something that is in my sight at this time. I’m happy with my activities as they are and plan to continue them.
GEN. COLIN POWELL, (RET.): Thank you all very, very much.
JIM LEHRER: Now, more on the personal dimension of Colin Powell’s most public decision. Bob Woodward of the “Washington Post” is with Margaret Warner.
MARGARET WARNER: Bob Woodward has been reporting on Colin Powell for many years. This past September Woodward wrote a cover story in the “Washington Post Sunday Magazine” describing what he called the Powell predicament over whether to run for President. Bob, if saying no was harder than saying yes, as Colin Powell just said, what is your sense of why he said no?
BOB WOODWARD: Well, I think we’ve just witnessed somebody in American politics really being true to himself and to his family. And that is unusual, as you know, and I think he asked the right questions. I think he was very serious in his examination of this. I think he took into consideration very much what his wife was saying about it, which was not about really security but about the quality of their life. And 35 years in the army is a long time. Powell has said publicly, and I know he’s told many, many people, including myself, that after he left the army, it was Alma’s turn to do something that she wanted, and obviously, this is something she chose and wished that he would not do.
MARGARET WARNER: He was very forthcoming in talking about her depression, saying they hadn’t taken offense at any of those stories, but do you think her illness was any kind of factor in his decision?
MR. WOODWARD: I, I think specifically no, and I think it’s a tribute to them, again, that they would be so open about it. Certainly going through a presidential campaign would be stressful for any–as we know, anyone who has depression problems, stress is not good. I take them at their word, that this really was not a factor in all of it.
MARGARET WARNER: The key thing, of course, what he said was that he just didn’t have the same passion and commitment for politics as he did for being a soldier. Why for this man isn’t the chance of political leadership as compelling or attractive as military leadership?
MR. WOODWARD: Well, if you look at his autobiography, My American Journey, his book really explains how he got into the army, how it really saved him. It gave order to his existence, and as he has said, he had this passion. He loved the army. He loved leading. He loved the order of it, of knowing that there’s a boss and a subordinate. Politics is chaos. Politics is very much the unpredictable. I also think a factor in this was that if he chose to run and were nominated and elected and then maybe reelected as President, he would be making a nine-year decision, and he wasn’t ready to do that.
MARGARET WARNER: His friends, I gather from your piece, also almost to a man and woman urged him not to run. Why?
MR. WOODWARD: Well, they saw a person who has a private life, who likes to laugh, who–the Powell as a social animal is part of the best Powell, and they like this, and they knew the intensity of politics, and felt it wouldn’t be a good thing for him personally. I can’t imagine anyone who knows somebody saying, hey, look, you really have to run for President, it would be a good thing for you. I think it’s definitely the most difficult thing anyone could do in this country. I’m writing a book on the ’96 presidential race, and I think it honestly can be said when you run, you cease to exist. You have no free moment. You always have to be on. The ability to be honest and forthright is significantly reduced, it consumes your life.
MARGARET WARNER: He also said that the attacks by conservatives in the party had not been a factor, that it “rolled off” his back. Yet, he talked abut the incivility in politics and other answers. How much of a factor do you think that was?
MR. WOODWARD: Well, I don’t think he liked it. I don’t think anyone likes being criticized. I think he’s not somebody who takes criticism particularly well, and I think we probably would have seen flashes of his anger had he chose to run, but I don’t think it really was an overriding factor. I think there’s a clear, indefinable reason why Powell decided not to run, and that is to run, you have to be able to answer the question, “I want to be President, because.” You have to be able to fill that in in a very clear, direct way. Certainly, Ronald Reagan did it when he said, we’re going to lower taxes, cut government, and increase defense. You have to find that message. Powell couldn’t answer it to himself and to his friends, so in not answering it, it seemed to me that that probably meant he was not going to run. And when you listened to him on his book tour or in the extensive interviews that he did, he did not say this is where I think the country should go. And somebody running for President has to be able to do that.
MARGARET WARNER: And was the prospect of being the first African-American President of the United States, the very real prospect, did that weigh in his mind? Do you think he felt a sense of mission or obligation in that way?
MR. WOODWARD: I think he probably did. And if he could have answered some of the other fundamental questions, it would have been an added benefit in, in his eyes. I don’t think–I mean, if you really pick apart his decision-making process, which will occur over the next several weeks, you will find this is a man who was asking absolutely the right questions. He went through the process, and as I said at the beginning, he was true to himself, and that is totally remarkable in American politics.
MARGARET WARNER: Well, Bob, thank you very much for being with us.
MR. WOODWARD: Thank you.