When you think about it, Colin Powell's endorsement of Barack Obama should come as no surprise.
Not because, as some small minds reason, the former secretary of State and Democratic presidential candidate are both African-American. Nor did Powell, a Republican, do it to get even with the Bush administration he once served for making him the foil for its rush to war in Iraq.
There was nothing petty about the choice Powell announced Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press. It is a logical extension of his view of America's role as the world's dominant force for good. In telling moderator Tom Brokaw that Obama is his choice for president, the man who was the most respected member of the Bush administration laid out a new "Powell doctrine."
The next president, he said, should be someone who has the ability to inspire and reach out to all Americans, and has the rhetorical ability and the substance to lead the nation and the world during troubled times.
Powell's endorsement of Obama amounts to a prescription for civilian leadership at a critical time that complements the first Powell doctrine, which he articulated after the United States went to war in 1991 to oust Iraqi forces from Kuwait.
While serving as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Powell said this country should send its troops into combat only when America's vital interests are at stake. And in such a situation, he said, we should use decisive force to achieve a clearly defined victory and exit strategy.
Back then, Powell wanted to win a war. Now he wants to secure the future of our nation. He sees Obama as "a transformational figure" among a new generation of world leaders who, more than John McCain, can lead America at the critical juncture in our history.
And so the more important question isn't why Powell endorsed Obama, but whether his endorsement will have a significant impact, coming as it did slightly more than two weeks before Election Day.
I don't think so.
The die is cast in this contest. While the outcome might not appear certain, I suspect that the vast majority of Americans — even those who claim to remain uncommitted — have decided how they'll vote Nov. 4.
If we can believe what people are telling pollsters, Obama already enjoys the backing of nearly every black voter, and he has a 14 percentage point lead over McCain among women and a 5 point edge with men. He also leads McCain among voters of every age category and education level, according a recent Gallup Poll. McCain has a 4 point lead over Obama with white voters but trails Obama by 10 points among independents.
By endorsing Obama at this late point in the campaign, Powell has just thrown some red meat to the news media's chattering class — too many of whom cover the presidential race like the hapless band of newsmen who reported on an African war in Scoop, Evelyn Waugh's satirical novel about the journalism profession. For them, Powell's endorsement is a big story, but in truth it will have more historical importance than political impact.
From a political perspective, the Obama train had already left the station and was hurtling toward the finish line when Powell got onboard. But as a matter of history, his decision to back Obama could make the second Powell doctrine as an important a prescription as the first.