Saying that “you couldn’t run a 7-11 the way we are running the country,” former Secretary of State Colin Powell urged the White House and Congress to work together to end the budget cuts set to kick in at midnight on March 1.
Speaking at Westmont College’s annual President’s Breakfast in Santa Barbara on Friday morning, Powell said that zealots “on the right wing and the left wing have seriously damaged” the nation’s political system.
He pointed to the need for a “break through” to end the looming sequester and resulting budget cuts and said the damage is repairable, but only if individual citizens demand that elected officials from both parties work toward long-term solutions to the budget problem.
“We own this government; we need to take action,” said Powell, who served as chairman of the joint chiefs of staff in the Reagan Administration and National Security Advisory under George H.W. Bush. He served as Secretary of State under the George W. Bush administration but has supported President Barack Obama in the past two presidential elections.
Powell, a stalwart in the moderate wing of the GOP, recently urged the party to open up to the idea of immigration reform and he reaffirmed his belief that immigrants are key to reinvigorating the U.S. economy in the 21st Century. “We are a nation of nations,” he said.
Powell said that the effect of the sequester may not be obvious at first but there will be a “slow bleed over the weeks ahead” as government services are reduced. He said part of the problem in getting a compromise lies in the proliferation of media that spreads “orthodoxy by cable television, Internet and the blogs.”
Powell said that a willingness to compromise was part of the forging of the U.S. Constitution, which dealt with the problem of slavery by giving three fifths of a vote to slaves in slave states. The compromise was morally unacceptable but it helped bind a single nation, Powell said.
Beyond the Washington battles over ideology, Powell said he did not believe the nation was in inevitable decline. He said he’s found the American dream alive and well and that more nations are finding that democratic institutions and a free-market economy are a path to sustainable wealth creation.
“Being the No. 1 superpower doesn’t mean as much any more,” he said, adding, “I want everybody (in the world) to gain wealth.”
He said that America will be the world’s leader as long as it continues to improve its economy and as long as its citizens don’t lose faith. “America has a resilient ability to come out on top,” he said.
Powell was presented with the inaugural Westmont Excellence in Leadership Awards. He said he fondly recalled spending time at the casitas at the Santa Barbara Biltmore during his years in the Reagan administration.
He said that America has faced troubled times before, including the period from 1968 until 1974 when social unrest and the War in Vietnam had the rest of the world wondering “if we were coming apart.”
He credited the leadership of presidents Gerald Ford and Reagan with helping to stabilize the country and win the Cold War.