Like a lot of dumb college kids who rallied to support then-Senator Barack Obama in 2008, rookie news junkies previously who’d been completely oblivious to the world of politics and current events, I hadn’t known much about former Secretary of State Colin Powell. I had a more primitive political mind back then, and thus I was no different from the mobs of amateurs, left, middle, and right, with similar, severely limited capacities for political thought: my causes for supporting Obama over McCain, for being a Democrat and not a Republican like my parents, were limited in number, simplistic in nature, and oftentimes unsound.
So, when Powell endorsed soon-to-be President-Elect Obama, ignorant little me very readily made a big deal out of it—mostly because CNN and all of its strategists had made a big deal out of it first: a highly decorated military man and former member of the Bush administration—and a Republican, no less—endorsing for president a relatively young Democrat with very little in the way of foreign policy experience over his old colleague, who ran on the strength of his foreign policy record… I kept repeating that, selling it as if it were a true line of reasoning when in truth it hadn’t been inspired by much reason at all. It sounded smart, and I kept hearing how great a development it was for the man I supported and sympathized.
There was plenty of space left on the bandwagon, and so onto the bandwagon I jumped.
Since then, I’ve given myself more respectable, well-read reasons for siding with Obama supporters and aligning myself with liberals in most debates, although admittedly, after Powell had endorsed President Obama for the second time last October, I once again celebrated the news having no idea who Powell really was.
I knew nothing of his past, nothing of his military service, nothing of his achievements as a statesman. Aside from the fact that he commanded so much respect from the people who seemed to know it all, all I really “knew” of Powell was that people called him a “Republican”, and when the roots of your liberal indoctrination are as close to the surface as mine still are, regardless of your capacity for reason and your best conscious intentions, a part of you will immediately link republican to conservative to “Tea Bagger” to irredeemable, government-hating asshole on impulse.
I’m proud to say that because of this video, posted earlier today by the New York Public Library, I’ll be making sure from now on to never, ever make such an error with General Colin Powell (not that I ever would have otherwise, given that we’re both Obama supporters):
As the guest of honor at the Friends of Lecture Luncheon this past June, an emotional Powell discussed what the NYPL and the Hunt’s Point Library in particular had done for him as a teenager growing up in the South Bronx. After listing a few of the books that inspired him as a kid, he poignantly reminded the audience that he wouldn’t have been able to read any of those books had it not been for the New York Public Library system. In a rush to talk over his tears, Powell admitted that “this little library around the corner […] made all the difference in the world” to him and his sister.
“Parents couldn’t afford books. Schools weren’t equipped. But the public library did it.”
He ended his story by urging the people to support public libraries. “Don’t ever stop,” he said, “no matter what comes along.”
“Just remember. There’s a kid in the South Bronx who needs the library.”
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—Photo Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff/Flickr