Conservatives praising Nelson Mandela post-mortem is a strange phenomenon. Given Republicans’ overwhelming support of Apartheid in the past, seeing them in any way memorializing a central figure in the anti-apartheid movement is nothing short of what some would say is a shocking display of hypocrisy.
Newt Gingrich (who, for all his faults, legitimately opposed the hateful practice of Apartheid), for example, recently became bombarded with negative comments online after he compared Nelson Mandela to America’s founding fathers during a CNN interview. The movement deserved acclaim from “everybody who is proud of the farmers at Lexington and Concord who stood up to the British army, everybody who is grateful to George Washington for eight years in the field fighting the British Empire,” said Gingrich, calling Mandela “one of the greatest leaders of our time.”
Some supported Gingrich’s kind words, but most offered either hateful anti-Mandela comments or criticisms of his audacity in praising Mandela.
Ted Cruz has also been taking flack for his Facebook post honoring Mandela. Cruz said that Mandela “will live in history as an inspiration for defenders of liberty around the globe,” and offered condolences to the people in South Africa. The conservative response was largely that Ted Cruz is a turncoat RINO (Republican in Name Only) who betrayed them all by displaying something vaguely reminiscent of human decency.
Rick Santorum jumped on the bandwagon, criticizing Mandela as “big government” then comparing the conservative fight against Obamacare with the fight against apartheid — despite the likelihood that Mandela would support Obamacare.
“He was fighting against some great injustice, and I would make the argument that we have a great injustice going on right now in this country with an ever-increasing size of government that is taking over and controlling people’s lives, and Obamacare is front and center in that,” said Santorum.
Rush Limbaugh praised Mandela for forgiving his white enemies, but used that example in an effort to demonize American civil rights leaders who are, according to the gospel of Rush, “nursing their resentments.”
Despite what seems to be an almost fashionability in praising a man whose very existence is an anathema to American conservative ideals, other White Wingers have remained largely silent on the issue, and with good reason. Following in the shameful mindset of Reagan’s “constructive engagement” with South Africa, many conservatives that are still in office today have traditionally been on the wrong side of history with regard to Apartheid.
Grover Norquist lead the “College Republicans,” a group that overwhelmingly supported the white government in South Africa, from 1981-1983. In 1985, he attended a “Youth and Freedom Conference” in South Africa sponsored by South African businesses. “The left has no other issue [but apartheid] on campus. Economic issues are losers for them. There are no sexy Soviet colonies anymore,” Norquist said at the conference.
Governor Rick Perry voted against a 1985 measure in the Texas state legislature that would have outlawed the state’s investment in the South African government. Perry again voted against a subsequent bill with the same aim.
Ultimately, sensibility won the battle and the measure passed. It is unknown whether his refusal to cast a vote for justice is in any connected to he mentality that would lead his family to lease a hunting camp with “Niggerhead” prominently displayed on a rock.
Arizona Senator Jeff Flake actively lobbied for oppressive South African mining interests in the late 80’s-early 90’s. He testified against an anti-apartheid resolution in the Utah state Senate, and personally represented the Rossing Uranium plant in Namibia — a target of the anti-apartheid movement because of its unsafe and discriminatory practices.
Whether they speak in support of Mandela, have opposed his policies, or have even opposed basic rights for black folks in Africa, no Conservative truly has the right to attempt to co-opt Mandela’s legacy.
Watch Gingrich talk about the backlash against his Mandela comments in the video below: