A Tale of Two Heroes: How Nelson Mandela Was Truly the Anti-Reagan

Currently, the entire world is in mourning over the death of a terrorist.


Well, at least a terrorist according to a modern-day Republican hero.


As stories of love and support continue to pour out in the days following Nelson Mandela’s death, the Republican Party is terribly and utterly confused about how to proceed with their patented “Barack Obama is Always Wrong” narrative.  Already, we’ve seen Conservative mouthpiece Rush Limbaugh claim Obama is making Mandela’s death all about him and that being an oppressed person of color is no big deal.  We’ve seen South Carolina sheriff Rick Clark of Pickens County refuse to fly the flag at half staff because “Mandela wasn’t an American”.  And, of course, we’ve seen Ted Cruz fanboys get their panties in a wad over the fact that Cruz would dare post a tribute on his Facebook wall to the deceased African leader.


But, remember folks, the Tea Party is not racist.  At all.


Yet despite all these gaffes, the biggest blow to Republicans so far (and there are bound to be more) has been how wrong Saint Ronald Reagan was in regard to Nelson Mandela’s role on the world stage.


As many of us know, Reagan has done very little, if anything, to stand on the pedestal that Conservative America has placed him on.  In fact, it can and has been argued that Reagan did significant damage to the United States both domestically and internationally.  From Iran-Contra to ignoring the plight of AIDS to the failed economic policies of trickle-down economics, Reagan gave us eight years of scandals and poor decisions that would have forced even Darrell Issa to investigate the president.  The vast majority of social and political inequalities today can be traced back to the Reagan Administration, which had little to no understanding of how government should help all, not a select few, of its people.


As if this wasn’t bad enough, Reagan was also on the wrong side of history when it came to Nelson Mandela.  In 1986, when South Africa was at the height of apartheid, a bi-partisan bill headed to Congress to impose sanctions on South Africa for its apartheid laws and called upon the country to free its political prisoners, including Mandela.  Despite opposition from Republicans like Wyoming representative Dick Cheney, the bill passed and headed to Reagan’s desk for his signature.  Unfortunately, Reagan, like fellow Conservative world leader Margaret Thatcher, saw the ANC as a terrorist organization and he vetoed the bill.


What followed was unprecedented during the Reagan Administration.  Congress actually overrode the veto, allowing the legislation to pass.  Here we were, nearly six years into Reagan’s presidency and this was the first time that Congress had gone against him in dealing with an issue of international affairs.  Eventually, due to increased pressure from the international community, Mandela was finally released from prison in 1990, after having served 27 years as a political prisoner.  He became South Africa’s first Black president in 1994 and his government was responsible for ending the apartheid policies that had plagued the country for nearly fifty years.


And yet, if Ronald Reagan had his way, the terrorist Nelson Mandela would still be in a prison cell rotting away.


Hindsight is always 20/20.  However, what the historical comparison between Nelson Mandela and Ronald Reagan should tell us is that Republicans cannot have it both ways.  Much like Ayn Rand and Jesus Christ, Republicans cannot worship both Nelson Mandela and Ronald Reagan.  What they stood for were two completely different things.  Mandela’s life was a testament to patience and endurance and what it took to see the political forest through the trees.  His life lessons taught a generation of children the message of love and hope despite overwhelming odds.  Reagan’s life was one built upon personal ambition.  The actor turned politician never had compassion for the little guy in life.  As governor of California, he campaigned on a slogan of sending “the welfare bums back to work”.  As president, he crushed the air traffic controllers strike of 1981 by firing 11,345 workers who refused to return to work without their conditions being met.  What conditions did Ronald Reagan feel these workers were unworthy of having?  These workers lost their jobs for wanting better pay and a thirty-two hour work week.


It is this Reagan hero worship that gives us people like Rush Limbaugh, Rick Clark, and the Ted Cruz fanboys.  They are people who see the world in absolutes and absolutes only.  In their minds, the word compromise is a dirty word because it implies that one side, their side, wasn’t entirely right.  It is why we have the suicide caucus in Congress that was elected to govern and yet hates government.  It is why we have Conservatives on the news today that refuse to recognize the inequality in this country because that would mean there is some kind of minor flaw in the capitalistic system.  It is why Conservatives refuse to support health care reform because if the system needed improvement that would mean that our current health care system isn’t the best in the world.  It is why Conservatives refuse to acknowledge or praise our president for working to disarm Iran because that would mean that thirty years ago, another sitting president would have dropped the ball for not engaging the country in conversation.  And we all know that the man in the White House in 1982 could do no wrong.


Nelson Mandela was no Ronald Reagan.  And that, without question, is a good thing.


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