Today's Senate vote should not be viewed as the final chapter in America's efforts, along with our allies, to address the plight of the people of South Africa. Instead, it underscores that America-and that means all of us-opposes apartheid, a malevolent and archaic system totally alien to our ideals.
The debate, which culminated in today's vote, was not whether or not to oppose apartheid but, instead, how best to oppose it and how best to bring freedom to that troubled country.
Sometime in all that - I think it was the early 80's - there was a period when people in Washington, DC were demonstrating in front of the South African embassy and being hauled in by the D.C. police.
I was Communications Director at the National Republican Congressional Committee and I remember asking why I shouldn't join them and get myself arrested, because I felt a certain solidarity with a large group of people being treated like cattle because of a racial identity over which they had no control.
I don't remember who talked me out of it, but one of the arguments was I would go to jail, which was not determinative; and I would probably be fired, which most certainly was.
So, I didn't go.
I don't qualify for any medals in this, either.
Times were certainly different in 1962 when Mr. Mandela was first sentenced to jail. It had only been eight years since the U.S. Supreme Court had decided "Brown vs Board of Education which made segregation in public schools Unconstitutional, so we weren't exactly sprinting down the road to racial equality, either.
Mr. Mandela was not a saint. He was a man. He reached out to people and causes that he believed would advance his people and their causes. That included Communists like Fidel Castro at a time when the Soviet Union and China were numbers one and two on the U.S. enemies list.
He was also, as President of South Africa, a staunch opponent of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the subsequent deposing of Saddam Hussein, calling it a modern "holocaust."
But, Nelson Mandela was not an ideologue. He was a realist trying to make the best deal he could for his country in a world in which his only weapons were his personality, his presence, and his vision.
He was well armed.
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