From Mandela and South Africa to Obama and Detroit

While President Obama rightfully praised the legacy of Nelson Mandela, the American leader fails to grasp why his African counterpart succeeded. Photo: Michelle Obama with Nelson Mandela/AP

ATLANTA, December 6, 2013 — The death of Nelson Mandela at age 95 has led to glowing tributes from mourners all across the globe. Mandela’s achievements came after epic struggles. Outside of Holocaust survivors and prisoners in Castro’s Cuba, few people could ever understand what Mandela endured.

After 27 years in a South African prison, he went from being a second-class citizen under Apartheid to a first among equals as his nation’s president.

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Yet many Americans, particularly blacks and white liberals, are completely misunderstanding what made Mandela great. President Barack Obama in particular, while publicly eulogizing Mandela, has completely failed to grasp the valuable life lessons Mandela taught all of us willing to learn.

President Obama sycophants will lash out as they always do, and complain about anybody using Mandela’s death as a reason to criticize Obama. The reverse is true. It is Obama supporters who will praise Mandela’s legacy while completely living and behaving in a manner that turns the best of Mandela upside down. Honest mourning cannot allow for revisionist history. To Obama’s detriment, he is the opposite of Mandela.

Mandela spent his adult life in squalor. He was beaten and tortured simply for being the wrong skin color and fighting for equality. Obama grew up privileged. He went from a comfortable life in Indonesia to an even more comfortable life in Hawaii. In the same way white rapper Vanilla Ice (his handlers anyway) invented a street-hardened persona to build street cred, Obama latched on to the black struggle to fit in. Yet Obama never had to struggle for anything.

Both men became president of their respective nations, but they took very different approaches to the two important issues of the economy and race relations.

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Economically, Obama constantly bemoans his circumstances. He insists he inherited the worst economy since the Great Depression, a falsehood that ignores the Carter malaise. Yet he has spent much of his presidency focusing on other issues from healthcare to education to the environment.

Prsiedent Obama occasionally gives a speech about pivoting back to the economy, but then returns to everything else he cares about more. This has led to five years of economic hardship.

Mandela did grow the economy. He knew that becoming the first black president of his country would be a hollow victory if he failed. He entered as a symbol of hope and change, but obsessed over getting results. He knew that leadership by sheer definition alone means actually leading.

This connects to why Mandela led where Obama did not.

There is no disputing that South Africa and America treated blacks in a ghastly manner. Apartheid and slavery were pure evil, and children should always learn in school what was done to people just for having darker skin. They should also learn how different reactions led to different societal results long after equality was achieved.

Mandela chose justice and mercy over vengeance and rage. Had he used his power as a black leader to exact retribution against whites, there would have been some short-term satisfaction. By taking the incredibly difficult high road, Mandela brought blacks and whites together for the greater good of saving and improving his country. He truly put country first.

Zimbabwe opted for the revenge approach, and their nation remains in a state of misery while South Africa prospers by comparison.

The American equivalent of Zimbabwe is Detroit. Once a prosperous city with a thriving black middle class, Mayor Coleman Young decided to deviate from the Martin Luther King approach that Mandela embodied. Young took the violent approach of letting blacks seek revenge on whites. Whites fled, and Detroit burned. Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and Maxine Waters all got rich and powerful following the Detroit approach.

So did Obama, who is turning America into Detroit. He pits people against each other. Where Mandela speaks warmly, Obama angrily lashes out at anybody for disagreeing with him. He complains about Republican obstruction, but does anybody think the GOP is as big an obstacle as what Mandela faced?

Mandela charmed De Klerk and demanded that whites be treated with the dignity that blacks were denied. Obama dehumanizes his political opponents with labels such as “hostage takers,” oblivious to the fact that Mandela actually was a hostage.

Mandela also did something that few leaders ever do. As Dr. Charles Krauthammer astutely pointed out, Mandela voluntarily gave up power at the height of his popularity. Other than George Washington, there are no other major examples of this remarkable willingness to give up power, again for the greater good.

Obama has been doing the reverse, attempting to consolidate as much power as possible. Some of his supporters speak about repealing the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution so he could serve a third term. Washington left after two terms and Mandela after only one.

Obama’s entire political calculus is about blaming others. He speaks frequently with decreasing effect. Mandela shared the credit with everybody. He rose above the squabbles and shared the results.

Mandela led through deeds, not words. Mandela was the personification of humility, which is the polar opposite of narcissism.

Obama was right to praise that for which Mandela stood.

Obama is wrong to repeatedly ignore Mandela’s approach to governing in favor of continuing a culture of victimhood, blame, recriminations, increased racial tensions, and failed governance.

Mandela’s death can provide one of Obama’s cherished “teachable moments.” Unfortunately Obama is the one who never learns. President Obama speaks of hope and change while crushing the former and refusing to consider the latter for the man in his mirror who desperately needs adjusting.


Brooklyn born, Long Island raised, and now living in Los Angeles, Eric Golub is a politically conservative columnist, author, public speaker, satirist and comedian. Eric is the author of the book trilogy “Ideological Bigotry, “Ideological Violence,” and “Ideological Idiocy.” 

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Eric Golub

Eric Golub is a politically conservative Jewish blogger, author, public speaker, and comedian. His book trilogy is “Ideological Bigotry,” “Ideological Violence,” and  “Ideological Idiocy.” 

He is Brooklyn born, Long Island raised, and has lived in Los Angeles since 1990. He received his Bachelors degree from the University of Judaism, and his MBA from USC. A stockbrokerage professional since 1994, he began blogging on March 11th, 2007, the three year anniversary of the Madrid bombings and the midpoint of 9/11. He has been inflicting his world view on his unfortunate readers since then. He blogs about politics Monday through Friday, and about football and other human interest items on weekends.



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