We can obviously tell a lot about a person by the way he/she responds in a stressful situation. But you can also tell a lot about how they handle themselves in times when a certain measure of decorum is called for. Do they pause to reflect and then choose their words carefully or are they Rush Limbaugh all the damn time?
Let me say that I believe that Nelson Mandela was the last great person of my lifetime. I don't see any more on the horizon, including, quite sadly, none in America. (Pope Francis is making some interesting noise, but he's 76 and may not be around long enough to effect any great change.) Mandela was a truly great man, one who used love to battle hate and responded to oppression with forgiveness. Who among us could have done what he did?
And yet praise for Mandela upon his passing a couple of weeks ago was far from universal. Blowhard Bill O'Reilly called Mandela a communist. Super-duper-blowhard Rush Limbaugh had attacked Mandela for years, claiming that the South African president had been "bankrolled by communists" and adding, "When Nelson Mandela or one of these terrorists sees America, they ask, 'How did they do this in less than 230 years? We've been around for centuries and we can barely muster working toilets.'"
Then, after Madiba (as he was known to his people) died, Limbaugh got really nasty by suggesting that Mandela "had more in common with (Supreme Court Justice) Clarence Thomas than he does with Barack Obama."
I'm surprised that Mandela didn't sit up in the box and say, "Aw, hell no!"
Former Vice President Dick (who lives down to his name on a daily basis) Cheney called Mandela a "terrorist." Cheney then defended the 20 or so votes he made while in Congress back in the 1980s, votes against the imposition of sanctions on the apartheid government of South Africa and, in effect, in favor of keeping Mandela in prison for no real crime other than being against brutal, institutionalized racism. President Ronald Reagan also opposed the sanctions.
By far the most outrageous remarks came from former Republican Somebody Rick Santorum, who said that Mandela stood up to injustice. But then (quite horrifyingly) Santorum added, "We have a great injustice going on right now in this country with an ever-increasing size of government that is taking over and controlling people's lives, and Obamacare is front and center in that."
Yes, Folks, apartheid and low-cost health insurance. Potato, po-tah-to. At least Santorum can rest easy at night knowing that he's not the absolute most despicable person ever to come out of Penn State University.
Now, here are a few more remarks that you probably didn't hear of (mostly because I made them up):
• From the Goldwater Institute—While our patron saint, Barry Goldwater, probably voted repeatedly to keep Nelson Mandela in prison, we mourn his passing and honor his socialist leanings, which serve as a template for our attempts to help people who can already afford it send their kids to private school with other people's money.
• Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin—Making him spend 27 years in prison would have been bad, but Dick Cheney said that Mandela was a terrorist so he probably deserved it. Besides, prison isn't as bad as slavery, which, as we all know, is the moral equivalent of running a budget deficit.
• Head of the Republican Party Reince Priebus—Remember, Martin Luther King was a registered Republican. He, too, was a Negro. I'll leave it to you to connect the dots.
Heading back into reality and giving credit where it is most certainly due, blind squirrel Ted Cruz praised Mandela and then even pushed back when some Tea Party crazies (if you'll pardon the redundancy) criticized Cruz for having done so. Good for him.
Cruz got a lot of publicity for turning away when the TV cameras were on Raul Castro of Cuba. I just have to say that I don't get it with all the hate from former Cubans and their progeny. You guys act like previous dictator Fulgencio Batista was a great guy. That Mafia house boy was robbin' y'all blind and (ahem) jailing political prisoners who dared speak out against him. Sound familiar?
Fidel Castro was no prince, but I can name at least a dozen U.S.-supported tinhorn Latin American dictators over the past half-century (Anastasio Somoza, Augusto Pinochet, et al.) who were way worse than Castro. You guys should have made book with Castro (he couldn't have been worse than Batista) and we could have avoided all this nonsense.
Finally, big, BIG ups to former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who was steadfast in his praise for the South African leader and took Tea Party knuckleheads to task for their thoughtless and often racist attacks on Mandela.
It makes me think that maybe there's still a little hope out there.