You know, Thursday I wrote that it was appropriate that Obama be a little self-referential in his statement on Mandela’s death, given that both are historic figures in the march toward racial equality.
Some of you called me on it, and while I still think it’s valid, you had a point. I took a closer look at the statement and noticed . . . there’s nothing it in about the United States.
Nothing like, On behalf of all Americans . . . The people the United States mourn the loss of . . . I mean, this isn’t a statement by the president; it’s a statement by some guy who is personally upset and wants to praise a leader who deeply affected him on his important lifetime journey.
I am one of the countless millions who drew inspiration from Nelson Mandela’s life. My very first political action, the first thing I ever did that involved an issue or a policy or politics, was a protest against apartheid. I studied his words and his writings.
The day that he was released from prison gave me a sense of what human beings can do when they’re guided by their hopes and not by their fears. And like so many around the globe, I cannot fully imagine my own life without the example that Nelson Mandela set, and so long as I live I will do what I can to learn from him.
To Graça Machel and his family, Michelle and I extend our deepest sympathy and gratitude for sharing this extraordinary man with us. His life’s work meant long days away from those who loved him the most. And I only hope that the time spent with him these last few weeks brought peace and comfort to his family.
Who cares what you only hope? Honestly. You’re working for us.
And look at Biden’s statement. Again, nothing for us:
I saw his world the way it used to be when I visited South Africa as a 34 year old Senator. When I exited the plane I was directed to one side of the tarmac, while the African American congressmen traveling with me were sent to the other side. I refused to break off, and the officials finally relented. When I tried to enter Soweto township with Congressmen Andrew Young of Atlanta and Charles Diggs of Detroit, I remember their tears of anger and sadness.
Gosh, I really wanted to know about Joe Biden’s experiences 35 years ago. And, what’s more, about what a civil rights hero Joe Biden is. That’s what I wanted to know when I heard Mandela died.
Biden uses his “mourning” statement to pitch to the most crucial voting block of the Democratic base. Great.
Ironically enough, these two are praising a man who was able to step way beyond himself. To suffer in dignity in prison, to be willing to sacrifice his life for his cause, and to walk away from the power Obama and Biden have so relentlessly sought.
That’s right, perhaps Mandela’s greatest achievement was to set a template for democracy in South Africa by choosing – choosing – to peacefully end his time as president. This is quite unique in Africa.
And he could do it because Mandela knew it wasn’t about him.
BTW, sorry if you have this song in your head the rest of the day . . . I do.