What Nelson Mandela Couldn't Teach Us
The world is now mourning the loss of Nelson Mandela, who died yesterday at 95. In our grief as a species, we mourn someone who was indisputably a more effective spiritual and human rights leader than he was South Africa's first black president. Mandela, through his tiny prison cell, and his countless millions of supporters, had shed a harsh, pitiless light on the apartheid South African government, surely one of the most brutal, repressive and fascist in the late 20th century.
What Republicans both then and now have forgotten is that South Africa was like a social time machine that brought us face-to-face with our own recent past. It was a classic case of, "We have met the enemy and it is us."
Witness Dick Cheney, who would go on to become one of the worst secretaries of defense, chiefs of staff and indisputably the worst vice president this nation ever suffered, voting against freeing Mandela. As recently as 2000, when Cheney and his brain-damaged running mate were on the campaign trail, Cheney remained unrepentant about keeping Mandela in jail, saying on ABC's This Week,
"The ANC was then viewed as a terrorist organization I don't have any problems at all with the vote I cast 20 years ago."
In 1986, the year the vote for the Comprehensive Anti Apartheid Act took place overriding Ronald's Reagan's veto to sanction the South African government unless apartheid ended and all political prisoners, including Mandela, were released, Big Dick stood tall like the massive, throbbing right wing hardon he's been his whole life, and voted to keep Mandela in prison. By the time of the vote, he'd been in prison for 23 years. By the time Cheney had made this incredibly stupid statement that should've cost Bush the presidency, Mandela had just wrapped up the year before a five-year term as South Africa's first black president. And Reagan's administration was so racist, Congress, with little help from Republicans, took the extraordinary measure of overturning Reagan's veto.
Mandela's legacy for human rights for all people, starting with his oppressed brothers and sisters, should stand in stark contrast to that of Reagan, a man whose administration was every bit as racist as that of Mandela's predecessor de Klerk. Reagan's legacy was in smashing unions like the one he'd belonged to while still a Democrat in Hollywood, ignoring AIDS to the point that he'd publicly mentioned it only once during his ruinous presidency, seized on one of history's inevitabilities, the fall of Communism and tried to take credit for it.
And, of course, he'd kicked off his first presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, the place where three civil rights workers were brutally murdered in 1964, in a classic dog whistle speech that spoke about "states' rights."
Dick Cheney, while not as overtly racist as Reagan, nonetheless will always been seen as one of the more successful members of the WASPish Old White Men's Club that's been running the Capitol since Washington's time.
You would think it would be indisputable that Mandela wasn't a terrorist at all but a fearless man who'd been imprisoned for over a quarter of a century (27, to be exact) calling for the end of apartheid for a nation and a continent that rightfully should've belonged to his people or at the very least, one in which the indigenous people should've been given a seat at the big table.
But Cheney and others labeled Mr. Mandela as a terrorist because it was easier to simply believe he was or pretend to believe he was just as today when anyone who challenges the white, corporate status quo is also labelled a "terrorist" (especially since the post-9/11 definition of the word in both the media and in our courts has been expanded to cartoonish proportions).
Dick Cheney, like Reagan, stood with other middle-aged and elderly white men who believed that white people should be able to go to Africa, set up an oligarchy and rule over the indigenous people and that one of the oppressed should never have the temerity to pull an Oliver Twist and ask, "Please, sir, may I have another?"
So it was a lot easier to claim Mandela, a man who'd devoted his long life to peaceful, nonviolent protest, was a "terrorist" because our capricious government thought the African National Congress was full of terrorists.
Dick Cheney came into power in the early-mid 70's a time when Jim Crow, many of its laws just stricken from the books, was still more of a raw wound than a memory. Cheney, while he may not have have worn his racism on his sleeve as had Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond,, represented the Old Guard that was not spiritually, intellectually or emotionally agile enough to accept necessary change.
The Old Guard that Cheney has so ably defended, especially in the corporate sector, lived on in perhaps the most shameful episode in the history of the US Senate when Jesse Helms stood up and fiercely filibustered against making the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's birthday a national holiday.
President Mandela will be remembered for trying to restore some basic human dignity to not only his own people but all oppressed people. In his golden years, he remained an ardent activist to those same ends and was a philanthropist.
Cheney will be remembered as the guy who used his connections to get a heart transplant then made the, well, incredibly heartless statement while pimping his new book about his transplant that, "it’s my new heart, not someone else’s old heart." Cheney will be remembered as the guy who personally OK'd Halliburton war profiteering contracts from his very office and ordered that post-Katrina electrical plants divert power away from five hospitals that needed it and to the Gulf coast refineries. Cheney is a great philanthropist in his own right, if a man's philanthropy can legitimately be limited to himself.
Paris lit up the Eiffel Tower last night in the colors of the South African flag to honor the late Mandela.
When Cheney's long-delayed time comes, a glowing, smoking fissure will open up in Death Valley and suck in his ragged, tattered soul to the demented supernatural chorus of the millions of lives he'd ruined and ended.