After mentioning that he was glad to be in the Tampa/Hillsborough/St. Pete area, he then deadpanned, "I gotta be candid. It's a great pleasure to be anywhere." That led to more comic bits about the fact that he's been out of public life for five years now.
Calling himself "analog," Powell recounted the fact that though he owns three smartphones and four computers, he's still getting up to speed on social networking. He discussed how he was learning about Twitter and Facebook from his grandson, who at one point created a Facebook page for the former Secretary of State.
"But I didn't ask for a Facebook page," he told his grandson. But when informed he had 22,000 "friends," he said, "Oh, why fight it?"
He also was self-deprecating in discussing his transition from being the most powerful diplomat in the world, with his own airplane and all the hoopla surrounding that. "They took it away, gave it to Condi, and then Hillary," he joked.
But he sort of wasn't joking when he said that, three days after he stepped down at State, he had to learn how to catch a flight on his own. So he did, but only after showing up late at Reagan National airport, paying cash, with no luggage.
Bingo. He was now a candidate to be seriously "wanded" by a Transportation Security Administration official. He says the man who was "wanding" him looked up at him and said, "Hey, General Powell." Powell says he looked at him with disdain, and told him, "If you know it's me, why don't you start looking for Osama bin Laden."
He then got serious, saying despite "what you may have heard, we're a lot safer than we were. Don't let anyone tell you we're not safe."
He also said he worried about how the tight restrictions imposed after 9/11 hurt the U.S. by hampering the ability of foreign students to attend U.S. universities.
Powell also almost dismissed the terrorist threat, saying that even if there were another attack, it wouldn''t destroy the fabric that makes the country great. "Terrorists may come again, and we'll mourn if they do," he said. "But they can't change who we are freedom-loving people. Only we can do that to ourselves. We're Americans! We're not going to be intimidated by some clown in a cave in Pakistan." He also emphasized that it's this country's diversity that makes it great, saying the U.S. is still "the land of hopes and dreams. We're still 'it'."
Speaking earlier in the day was Rudy Giuliani, who wasn't as successful in moving the crowd. More on that in a later post.