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Convention Speaker: Gen. Colin Powell (Ret.)
Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

By Karen Foerstel
Congressional Quarterly

After wowing Republicans during their 1996 national convention, Gen. Colin Powell has been asked back this year for a repeat performance.

Powell will be featured on the opening day of the GOP gathering in Philadelphia, speaking on the future of America's youth.

It is fitting that Powell will open the presidential nominating convention for George W. Bush: He served as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for four years during the presidency of Bush's father.

Powell is best known for his oversight of Operation Desert Storm during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. For the past three years, Powell has been waging another battle: to help the country's young people.

As chairman of the volunteer organization, America's Promise - The Alliance for Youth, Powell has called for better health care and education, and safe streets for children.

Powell has been honored by Republicans as a symbol of the American dream. He grew up in a poor neighborhood in the South Bronx, the child of two Jamaican immigrants. He was educated in the New York City public school system and went on to earn a bachelor's degree in geology from the City College of New York. He also holds a master's degree in business administration from George Washington University.

Along with numerous military decorations, Powell has received two Presidential Medals of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal, and an honorary knighthood bestowed by Queen Elizabeth II.

Powell was courted by both Democrats and Republicans in 1996 to run for president. He turned down the offers but became the star of the 1996 GOP convention after he gave what many considered the best speech of the gathering. His 22-minute address was interrupted 31 times by applause and ended with a standing ovation.

But some in the party criticized Powell's speech. He spoke of his support of affirmative action and in favor of abortion rights - two stances opposed by the Republican leadership.

"I became a Republican because I want to help build a big tent that our party has raised to attract all Americans," he told convention delegates. "We are a big enough party and big enough people to disagree on individual issues and still work together for our common goal - restoring the American dream."

During the failed 1996 presidential campaign of former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan. (1969-96), Powell was frequently mentioned as a potential nominee for secretary of State.

His name is again being floated as a possible pick by Bush for the top Cabinet position. Some had hoped Powell would be a contender for vice president, but he has said he has no interest in running for elected office.

Just as Powell broke with several GOP policy stances in 1996, he again has criticized the party this year. He recently told Fox News that the GOP has failed to adequately represent America's black community. He said Republicans are in danger of being seen as a party for whites, particularly because of its stand against affirmative action.

"It is certainly not seen as the black guy's party. It has not done well in the African-American community," he said.

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