Obama and Mandela

I was watching my news feeds today, and one of the first stories I saw pop up was about how Obama had lied about staying a few weeks with his uncle.  What the article actually said was that Obama failed to correct it when the White House said that he hadn’t met his uncle.  This was headline news.

My first reaction when reading this was, “So?” My next reaction was, “I wonder how some of the Obama haters in my friends list are going to twist this into Obama being the devil.”

A few minutes later, I read that Nelson Mandela died.


There are many reasons to respect Nelson Mandela, but the one I focus on was his ability to reject hate.  He had reasons to be bitter and angry and hateful, but he said that leaders don’t have time for hatred.  He was in jail for 27 years, and when he was sworn into office, he had one of his jailers present.

The timing of the news of Mandela’s death next to Obama’s “lie” drew me into making some comparisons.

I want to like and respect Obama as much as Mandela, but I can’t.  I don’t dislike our president.  I respect him, and I think he is a powerful speaker, and a good man.  I want more, though.  I want to see the measure of Obama’s convictions.  I don’t want him to sell his ideas to me, I want him to see his vision through.

Maybe the Republican obstructionist ways have been keeping him from acting.  Maybe he’s just one man, and I’m expecting too much.

Nelson Mandela was just one man, but when he stood for something, others stood with him.

I want more.  Maybe the healthcare reform is the thing, but I’m not feeling it.

The president is in his last term.  I want him to take a risk.  I don’t want him to try and do something popular, I want him to try and do something right.  I don’t know what that is yet.  Maybe if I figure out the answer, I’ll just go do it myself.

2 thoughts on “Obama and Mandela

  1. This reminds me of what you wrote on your last post:

    ~The next wave of reactions were all about the driver. The thrust of those posts were to say, “The death of Paul Walker is tragic, sure, but we should be remembering the other guy, too.” There was a kind of haughty smugness to some of the posts.~

    It’s saying something when even you spend more time discussing the other guy than reflecting on Mandela’s successes and how they came about. Ending apartheid has more in common with the battle for civil rights in this country, and going on to treat the wounds of the economic disparity left in its wake. I’m not sure that economic irresponsibility (the most pressing problem in DC) can be drawn in parallel with human rights issues. Surely they feed into each other, though.

    How much do you trust social media to reflect the honest sentiment of the people? How much can you trust social media to discuss anything of substance? Votes for the “Times Person of the Year” put a monstrous Egyptian general first, a Turkish dictator second, and Miley Cyrus in third place. I think the poll reflected that most think it’s a farce. More people are interested in decrying the hollowness of things than creating something meaningful. We forget that politics and activism require different skill sets. Or maybe we never cared in the first place.

    I think social media (most of our media, come to think of it) thrives on the bitterness Mandela rejected. We watch dysfunctional people in reality shows to make ourselves feel above them. We argue and bully each other over everything from football to which fake love interest a fake character should choose. Entire publications — entire networks, for that matter — are dedicated to gossip, baseless opinions and shit-talking.

    That’s politics.

    Mandela cut through the my-team-your-team crap. See: Rugby World Cup.

    I’m not an authority on Mandela, or the Dalai Lama, or Cardinal Tutu, or any other prominent human rights activists. The tiny bit I know is a mixture of third grade Scholastic magazine and the plethora of articles that have just come out. However, I think his success derived from his sincerity. He fought against white domination, and he fought against black domination. He believed in mercy over retribution. His goal at the end of debate was to bring the two sides closer — not to ‘win.’ His ideas and ideals were universal.

    He chose his steps as an activist who happened to become a politician — not a politician using activism as part of strategy.

    I have to mention Harvey Milk and Mahatma Gandhi as other examples of such activists. I think Mandela was prepared to share their fate. I have trouble thinking of Mandela’s death as a tragedy. He was what, ninety-four? It seems to me he squeezed a lot of life, a lot of good, and a lot of purpose out of those years.

    Will you say the same when you get to that age?

  2. I didn’t focus on Mandela, mostly because I can’t. I don’t know the specifics of his life as well as I should.

    When I was writing out my post, I almost deleted it several times, just because I knew I couldn’t speak as eloquently about Mandela as he deserved. I was also feeling hesitant to start a political post, when it wasn’t really politics I wanted to talk about.

    I wanted to talk about convictions, which I think transcends politics and activism. I think that in order to succeed as an activist, you must be able to stand on your convictions, and see your vision through to the end. In order to succeed at politics, standing on your convictions is only one of the options, but it is an option, just as you’ve pointed out. I guess that’s the point I was trying to originally make.

    In regards to social media, I think it’s just a channel of communication. How we use it is a reflection of us. I won’t lump all social media as garbage, just as I won’t lump all conversations over a phone as garbage. It’s all about who is doing the talking. Sometimes it is good. Sometimes it is bad.

    I don’t see Mandela’s death as a tragedy, either. He was 95, and he’d been sick and in the hospital for a while. He did squeeze a lot out of his life, and he set brilliant examples. The only tragedy would be if we didn’t learn from his life.

    When I get to be 95, I’m sure I’ll say I that I have some regrets. As an activist, I haven’t found my cause, yet.

Comments are closed.