It was clear from former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's strong endorsement of Sen. Barack Obama for president this weekend that he had not arrived at that conclusion lightly.
Mr. Powell epitomized the statesmanship that won him the respect of millions of Americans when he said that while he admired Republican Sen. John McCain as a fellow soldier and friend, Senator Obama was the kind of transformational leader across generational, ethnic and class lines that the country needs now. But Mr. Powell, a Republican and one of the nation's highest-ranking African-American officials as a member of President Bush's Cabinet from 2001 to 2005, also decried the xenophobic tone of recent GOP campaign events, where some in attendance appeared almost gleeful in disparaging Arabs and Muslims.
He said he was disappointed Senator McCain and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, have been so tepid in rejecting such demagogy. For merely to say, as Mr. McCain and Mrs. Palin have, that Mr. Obama "isn't an Arab" or that he is "a decent person" - and leave the implicit slander against Arabs and Muslims in place - is to tacitly condone the blinkered worldview that vilifies all Arabs and Muslims as enemies. Is that really the message Republicans want to send to millions of American citizens of Arab descent and the more than 1 billion Muslims worldwide?
What Mr. McCain and Mrs. Palin should have told their supporters is that the only thing that counts is that Mr. Obama is an American citizen, and that his religious and ethnic background are irrelevant to his qualifications to be president. They might also have reminded them that even if Mr. Obama were Arab or Muslim, which he is not, religious and ethnic bigotry have no place in their campaign.