Five Best Friday Columns

John Dramani Mahama remembers the late Nelson Mandela, David Weigel on politicizing him, Deroy Murdock changes his mind about him, Issac Chotiner on the Constitution and Obama's bad year, and Alexander Stille on the Pope's chance for change. 

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John Dramani Mahama at The New York Times on the late Nelson Mandela. "I was 5 years old when Nelson Mandela became prisoner number 46664, and was banished to spend the remainder of his years on Robben Island, five square miles of land floating just north of Cape Town," Mahama, the president of Ghana, writes. "It is no coincidence that in the years since Mandela’s release so much of Africa has turned toward democracy and the rule of law. His utilization of peace as a vehicle of liberation showed Africa that if we were to move beyond the divisiveness caused by colonization, and the pain of our self-inflicted wounds, compassion and forgiveness must play a role in governance."

David Weigel at Slate on politicizing Mandela. "Nelson Mandela was a political activist. He ran in the first election he was allowed to run in — and won, obviously. When politics failed him, he joined the African National Congress, which engaged in infrastructure terrorism against an oppressive state," Weigel writes. He was not "some safe, muppety 'civil rights activist.'" So we shouldn't "take someone out of politics and make him a saint, someone totally sui generis, impossible to keep in context. How about keeping the context? We can learn plenty from what Mandela got right and we only got right much, much later." Jonathan Shanin, the news editor at, tweets, "seriously, read this."

Deroy Murdock at National Review on changing his mind about Mandela. "Like many other anti-Communists and Cold Warriors, I feared that releasing Nelson Mandela from jail, especially amid the collapse of South Africa’s apartheid government, would create a Cuba on the Cape of Good Hope at best and an African Cambodia at worst," Murdock admits. But he was wrong. "Far, far, far from any of that, Nelson Mandela turned out to be one of the 20th Century’s great moral leaders, right up there with Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.," Murdock writes. Weigel tweets, "Excellent Deroy Murdock column on how he misjudged Mandela."

Issac Chotiner at The New Republic says don't blame the Constitution for Obama's bad year. "Would a Democratic President and Democratic House, assuming the Senate didn't exist, really pass ideal bills? Wouldn't the economy still have been in trouble even with a bigger stimulus? Would another variety of health care reform still have been a tough sell? Politics is hard and complex, and structural changes aren't a magic bullet," Chotiner argues. "You may think the Constitution was an amazing achievement, or an imperfect blueprint, or (in fact) both, but in a divided country it's far from our largest problem." The Washington Post's Dylan Matthews disagrees.

Alexander Stille at The New Yorker on the Pope's chance for change. "The papacy during the last years of Benedict had come to seem an institution in sad decline, closed off behind the Vatican walls, out of touch, on the defensive, fighting a losing cultural war with its own followers ..." Stille writes. "Francis changed that almost overnight." So will Francis change anything in the Church?  "There was clearly a welling up of demand for reform, especially from cardinals from outside of Italy, for a less Rome-centered Church," Stille argues. "This, undoubtedly, increases the chance that major changes in the way the Church operates will actually stick." Catholic Herald editor Luke Coppen recommends the post.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.