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Jewish World Review Dec. 27, 2000 / 1 Teves, 5761

Chris Matthews

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Consumer Reports


Powell a symbol of opportunity


http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- COLIN POWELL was described as "the most politically adroit American general since Dwight D. Eisenhower." Given the ruffles and flourishes of his debut, and the public deference shown him by President-elect George W. Bush, the retired general stands to become our most influential foreign policy- maker since Ike's own secretary of state, Cold Warrior-in-chief John Foster Dulles.

He is also the country's first African American to hold this prized portfolio. It is a "first" that the Persian Gulf commander salutes proudly and loudly. Just three days after getting his nomination, the Harlem-born general drew his own personal line in the sand.

"America overseas should look like America at home," he told Howard University students. He wants a lot more African Americans and other minorities serving in the U.S. foreign service he is about to lead.

Powell's greatest argument for affirmative action in the State Department and elsewhere is his own career. Had it not been for a certain governmental outreach effort, this Bronx-raised son of Jamaican immigrants might never have had his talents so widely recognized, his vision assigned to such exalted purpose.

"There may be one moment in our lives we can look back to later and say that, for good or ill, it was the turning point," Powell wrote. "For me, that day came in November 1971."

That was the day that Powell, at age 34, was ordered to apply to become a "White House fellow." Created by Lyndon B. Johnson, the one-year tour of high office was meant to give future American leaders from every walk of life an inside look at how the federal government runs. Also a chance to befriend the insiders who run it.

"The people I met during that year were going to shape my future in ways unimaginable to me then," Powell said.

They included future Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, whom Powell would serve as military aide when he ran the Pentagon in the 1980s; Frank Carlucci, who named Powell his national security deputy, and later his successor, in the Reagan White House.

His years on the inside opened still more doors. In 1989, while commanding troops in Germany, Powell was tapped by President George Bush as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Last week, he was nominated for secretary of state by Bush's son.

Even as they have resisted affirmative action, these top Republicans helped to advertise its value by recruiting this one outsider to their circle.

By becoming a great secretary of state, Powell will no doubt offer a role model for African Americans and other minorities. But his greatest lesson, his finest inspiration, may well be in showing the American majority what great things can come when we open that thick, creaky door of opportunity to those on the other side.



JWR contributor Chris Matthews is the author of Hardball. and hosts a CNBC show of the same name. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

Up

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