What Gingrich Got Right About Mandela

Not necessarily friends, but certainly not enemies.

When Nelson Mandela crossed over from revolutionary to statesman, most of the world cheered.   Most, but not all.   For many American conservatives both in life and in death Mandela remained nothing more than an old “communist” and “terrorist” as they damned him with both faint praise and withering contempt.

Conservatives are not inherently racist. Neither are Republicans. However, too often conservatives and Republicans side with racists whether it be a president cravenly supporting the apartheid regime in Africa or rallying to defend a Louisiana redneck’s moronic views about gays and Blacks and so the image becomes the reality.

I don’t like Newt Gingrich. Not even a bit. I think he’s a race-baiter, a pompous and insufferable egotist and a major contributor to the current political dysfunction in Washington, but even a bad man can do a good thing.

I  have to respect Gingrich for having the guts to set the record straight on Mandela despite the howling of his conservative cohorts who attempted to demonize the legendary Lion of South Africa.

What Would YOU Have Done?

Some of the people who are most opposed to oppression from Washington attack Mandela when he was opposed to oppression in his own country.

After years of preaching non-violence, using the political system, making his case as a defendant in court, Mandela resorted to violence against a government that was ruthless and violent in its suppression of free speech.

As Americans we celebrate the farmers at Lexington and Concord who used force to oppose British tyranny. We praise George Washington for spending eight years in the field fighting the British Army’s dictatorial assault on our freedom.

Patrick Henry said, “Give me liberty or give me death.”


Thomas Jefferson wrote and the Continental Congress adopted that “all men are created equal, and they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Doesn’t this apply to Nelson Mandela and his people?

Some conservatives say, ah, but he was a communist.

Actually Mandela was raised in a Methodist school, was a devout Christian, turned to communism in desperation only after South Africa was taken over by an extraordinarily racist government determined to eliminate all rights for blacks.

I would ask of his critics: where were some of these conservatives as allies against tyranny? Where were the masses of conservatives opposing Apartheid? In a desperate struggle against an overpowering government, you accept the allies you have just as Washington was grateful for a French monarchy helping him defeat the British.

Finally, if you had been imprisoned for 27 years, 18 of them in a cell eight foot by seven-foot, how do you think you would have emerged? Would you have been angry? Would you have been bitter?

Nelson Mandela emerged from 27 years in prison as an astonishingly wise, patient, and compassionate person.

He called for reconciliation among the races. He invited his prison guard to sit in the front row at his inauguration as President. In effect he said to the entire country, “If I can forgive the man who imprisoned me, surely you can forgive your neighbors.”

Far from behaving like a communist, President Mandela reassured businesses that they could invest in South Africa and grow in South Africa. He had learned that jobs come from job creators.

I was very privileged to be able to meet with President Mandela and present the Congressional Medal of Freedom. As much as any person in our lifetime he had earned our respect and our recognition.

Before you criticize him, ask yourself, what would you have done in his circumstances?

There is an expectation that the oppressed are expected to be non-violent in the face of violent oppression.   This tactic worked for Gandhi and Martin Luther King, but it was not going to work for Mandela in light of the vicious determination of the Afrikaner government to keep the Black majority of South Africa controlled body, mind and soul.

Gingrich is a student of history and as such knows not all revolutions succeed without taking up the gun and the bomb.  Mandela led a social revolution and became a statesman.   Gingrich led a political revolution and found common ground with Mandela in a rare example of statesmanship.

Gingrich didn’t have to call out his fellow conservatives for their classless attacks on Mandela, but I’m impressed he did.   Tomorrow I can go back to despising the ground he walks on.

A future president pays his respects to a past one.

A future president pays his respects to a past one.

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