The frantic campaign by Democrats and their cohorts in the news media to demonize Dick Cheney suffered a major setback Monday.
The setback was administered by Colin Powell and came in the form of an unequivocal, enthusiastic endorsement of the Republicans' vice presidential nominee.
Powell, the universally admired retired Army general who was the first black American to serve as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, used the occasion of his opening-night speech at the Republican National Convention to call Cheney "a man I have known and respected for many years." He praised the ex-secretary of defense as "one of the most distinguished and dedicated public servants this nation has ever had."
"He will be a superb vice president," Powell declared.
Powell's tribute was no run-of-the-mill endorsement — and not just because the two worked together during the Persian Gulf War. Keep in mind that Powell is America's most famous black Republican and the Grand Old Party's most revered "moderate."
Ever since GOP presidential nominee George W. Bush picked Cheney as his running mate, the political attack squads have been trying to portray the former Wyoming congressman as a right-wing zealot whose views are at odds with the compassionate conservatism espoused by Bush.
But if Powell — whose speech included a blast at Republican resistance to affirmative action — harbors no philosophical objection to Cheney's candidacy, the opposition's barbs look more and more like what they really are: partisan cheap shots.
As for the Democrats' media cohorts, consider the following question asked by NBC's Katie Couric in an interview with Powell on Tuesday's "Today" show. I present the question just as Couric asked it on television, with one monstrous factual error and with no punctuation that you could notice:
"Let me ask you briefly if I could General Powell about your former colleague Dick Cheney the vice presidential candidate of course he was secretary of defense when you were chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and much has been made of his conservative voting record I'm just curious do you have any problems with the fact that he did vote against Head Start because you care so deeply about education and against a resolution that would have allowed Nelson Mandela to be released from prison?"
Whew. Let me, let us — let Katie and Colin, for heaven's sake — take a breath before trekking onward.
Whatever the context of Cheney's anti-Head Start vote — he said last week that he was voting for fiscal responsibility at a time of burgeoning budget deficits — it's ancient history and mostly meaningless today. Bush plans to improve the Head Start program, and Cheney supports the plan.
A Cheney vote against Head Start a million years ago will have no effect on the 2000 presidential election.
Nor will Cheney's alleged vote to keep South African icon Nelson Mandela locked up as a political prisoner way back in the 1980s. I say "alleged" because Cheney never voted against any resolution that "would have allowed Nelson Mandela to be released from prison," as Couric so erroneously stated in her question to Powell.
The vote at issue involved a "sense of the House" resolution that urged the president of the United States to urge the South African government to — among other things — let Mandela out of jail. We're talking about a "recommendation;" the House of Representatives had no authority over Mandela's imprisonment or release.
Cheney voted against the resolution, he said, not because he wanted Mandela to remain in prison but because the resolution also urged recognition of the African National Congress, which was widely suspected of terrorist activities.
Powell, by the way, brushed off Couric's question and insisted that Cheney is an "excellent choice" for vice president.
I'm guessing that most voters will take Powell's word for it.
Bill Thompson is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. You can reach him at (817) 390-7787 or firstname.lastname@example.org .