Conservative Hatred of Nelson Mandela

Ronald ReaganFor conservatives, a moment like the death of Nelson Mandela is hard. They want to make it clear that they are not racists like that. They aren’t like those people who believed in slavery or Jim Crow or apartheid. It’s just that what minority groups want today that’s all screwed up. Of course, in 20 years, they won’t admit to what they believe today either. That’s just what it is to be a conservative, as I discussed earlier today before I had even heard of Mandela’s death. My colleague Michael Stickings tweeted, “Republicans praising #Mandela should just shut the fuck up, because their politics are pretty much the exact opposite.” That’s absolutely correct.

But I can’t hear the name “Nelson Mandela” without thinking of the conservative icon—and let’s be honest, saint—Ronald Reagan. A couple of years ago, Justin Elliott wrote an excellent interview with historian David Schmitz for Salon, Reagan’s Embrace of Apartheid South Africa. It doesn’t contain a lot of new information for me, because I was around during that time and involved in the divestiture movement. This was the idea that we just shouldn’t do business with an explicitly racist country.

There was a counter argument, called the “Sullivan principles.” But even at the time, it sounded like nothing but apologetics. Reagan and others argued that we needed to stay engaged with the South African government, because there were moderates who wanted to change. Also, it was claimed that American companies were the only ones there who would hire blacks. Well, it turned out that the first idea just wasn’t true. And as for the second, there were lots of whites who employed blacks as servants. That wasn’t exactly moving the country forward. What’s more, by 1987, Sullivan himself had repudiated the idea. Schmitz noted, “The crackdown of 1986 and the reimposition of martial law just made a total lie out of the notion that there were moderates in the Afrikaner government.” But of course, Reagan held firm.

Elliott asked, “Would you argue that Reagan’s foreign policy extended the life of the regime in South Africa?” Schmitz responded:

Yes. It gave it life. It gave it hope that the United States would continue to stick with it. It gave it continued flow of aid as well as ideological support. It delayed the changes that were going to come. Then you had the big crackdowns in ’86 and ’87. So there was harm in the lengthening. There was harm in the violence that continued.

I think a lot of well-meaning people in the United States bought the Sullivan principles and constructive engagement, because it seems reasonable. Reagan would say, “If we’re willing to talk to the Russians, why aren’t we willing to talk to the South African government?” We’re going to encourage them to moderate and reform—it sounds reasonable. But there was no real pressure. It was all talk. And it was exposed as that.

According to Reagan, it was all about the Soviet Union. If blacks got the right to vote, the Soviets would sweep in and take over the country. But I don’t believe that at all. I think that deep down, Reagan was a bigot. He simply thought that whites were better. I return again and again to how he launched his presidential campaign in Mississippi at the Neshoba County Fair where he talked about “states’ rights.” That was a dog-whistle heard ’round the world.

And Reagan repeatedly called Nelson Mandela a terrorist. He put Mandela and the African National Congress on the United States terror watch list. And they stayed there until the last six months of Bush Jr’s presidency. Just in time for his 90th birthday, the United States government admitted that Nelson Mandela was not a terrorist. But today, while supporting policies that go against everything that Nelson Mandela stood for, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor tweets out:

And why not. Now that he’s dead, he is no threat to the unjust status quo, which Cantor and his Republican allies are so committed to protecting.


See also: Conservatives Can’t Admit Reagan Was Racist Because They Are

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

4 thoughts on “Conservative Hatred of Nelson Mandela

  1. [quote] I think that deep down, Reagan was a bigot. He simply thought that whites were better.[/quote]

    Have you seen the statistics on the appointments Regan made during his presidency? It was something like 95 or 96% white men (maybe more). I think it says a great deal about modern conservatives that they hold such a man up as a venerated hero.

    And Eric Kantor’s tweet is quite true, but it’s ironic coming from him. You know Mandela’s legacy won’t serve as an example to him. He doesn’t give a fuck about justice or human rights. You know damn well that if Mandela had somehow become president of the United States he wouldn’t have been treated any differently than Obama has been by Kantor and other conservatives.

  2. @Grung e Gene – Yes, as soon as any liberal leader is dead, the process begins to turn them into a conservatives. In general, conservatives can’t look back on past leaders because their opinions are now so clearly vile. They just lie about Reagan. But look at William F. Buckley: wrong about segregation in the American south. Then he saw the light. But when he had a second chance in South Africa, he got it wrong again. Conservatives can see the future clearly–just as soon as it is history.

  3. @JMF – As bad as Cantor is, he is actually one of the more reasonable Republicans in the house. I didn’t want to use him. But as I went through Twitter I found that most Republicans had [i]nothing[/i] to say about the death of Mandela. I guess they still think he’s a terrorist. Or worse: negro! So I will give Cantor a bit of credit.

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