The big news this week was the passing of Nelson Mandela, and the remembrances didn't stop as the Sunday talk show circuit lined up guest to remember a man who has largely been hailed as a hero, despite his complicated history with the United States.
The right found itself embroiled in some of that controversy this week, with Ted Cruz taking heat for a Facebook post praising the late anti-apartheid crusader. Similarly, former presidential candidate and ex-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich was slammed for his own online remarks honoring the former president of South Africa, with critics railing against what they perceived as a rewriting of history and a white-washing of Mandela's early guerrilla tactics.
In his defense, speaking on CNN's State of the Union, Gingrich used the example of another country that was established using violent means against an oppressive establishment: The United States of America.
Everybody says they love freedom, everybody who is proud of the farmers at Lexington and Concord who stood up to the British army, everybody who's grateful to George Washington for eight years in the field fighting the British empire.
Gingrich said that he believed the commenters were subscribers to the "mythology" that those in rebellion against established systems in the Third World made them effectively anti-American. "In many ways," Gingrich rebutted, "we were a symbol of what they wanted, we were the kind of country that they wanted to become."
And while Gingrich did grant that Mandela used violent tactics and aligned himself briefly with the Communist Party, he defended those decision. "There weren't any conservative allies...Mandela was desperate, he saw the scale of the oppression," he said. "The only allies available, frankly, were on the hard left."
At the same time, Gingrich also defended former president Ronald Reagan's controversial decision to veto the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986, which would have installed strict economic sanctions on South Africa. (He argues that it was in service to the larger goal of defeating the Soviet empire.) At the time, Mandela (who was still in jail) was seen by many as a terrorist and a communist. The veto was later overridden by Congress as it was slammed by anti-apartheid leaders including Desmond Tutu.
CBS's Face the Nation took the matter up head-on with Reagan's chief of staff, James Baker, who said that Reagan regretted it later in life.
I'm sure he did regret it, Bob. In fact, I'm certain that he did. It was after all, I think, the only time a veto of his had been overridden in two terms. And so, certainly, he regretted it.
Baker called Mandela "an extraordinarily beautiful human being" who had an "enduring and endearing presence of dignity that I don't think I've ever seen on any other person."
Baker also told the story of the time that Mandela was once asked by a boy during a visit to Texas's Rice University about how he wanted to be remembered.
He said, 'Son, I'm no angel, in fact, I'm no saint, unless you consider a saint to be a sinner who keeps on trying.'
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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