But more worrisome is the larger context of Powell’s remarks. If he is worried about uncivil speech, extremism, and a cruelty in the public arena, then he might have recalled that his own boss was the object of a mainstream novel imagining his assassination, of a prize-winning docudrama imagining his assassination, of a Guardian op-ed imagining his assassination, and of a New Republic essay entitled “Why I hate George W. Bush.” Those smears did not come from conservative critics, of whom there were many, and they did not prompt Powell’s commensurate outrage. But even stranger, Powell himself, as Brett Stephens recently pointed out, has allegedly said things that might be termed insensitive to Jews (e.g., “Gestapo office” and “card-carrying member of the Likud Party”) in the context of loose, political speech that is part of the Washington give-and-take.

Powell is an authentic American hero, who heretofore was honored by Republicans in three administrations with prestigious appointments, could have had their presidential nomination in 1996, and had been smeared only by those on the left (despicably, as a “house negro” from the likes of Al Sharpton and Harry Belafonte) — to the general silence of liberals. Nonetheless, his recent accusations are not factual, at least from the evidence he so far has cited. Perhaps they reflect a deeper anguish at former colleagues, and especially “neocons” (who once supposedly elicited from Powell the pejorative “f***ing crazies”) — all in the context of his tenure as secretary of state and his departure, and especially the unfortunate flawed presentation at the U.N. on WMD in Iraq and the disturbing silence about the role of his subordinate Richard Armitage in the Scooter Libby travesty. Certainly the controversies over those years have left their scars on both sides.