Washington (CNN) — Newt Gingrich is fighting back against conservative critics who attacked the former Speaker of the House and co-host of CNN’s “Crossfire” for his praise of Nelson Mandela.
An unfortunate side-effect of echo-chamber liberalism is that it jumps on any and all criticism of the right and gives all those critics equal weight. But before we get to the idea that this this is representative of a shift - an example of cuddly old guard Republicans bristling at the new wave of Tea-Partying Republican Rock Stars and their lack of tact, gaul, and common sense - let’s admit that there’s a bit strawman politicking going on here. I’m not convinced that you can ascribe the anti-Mandela sentiment to a group. The problem with the Internet Age is that cranks used to write letters and get one published in the paper. Now they post a blog entry online, get comments and Retweets from a thousand other cranks, and suddenly the thought is given more weight than it deserves.
Now that that’s out of the way - this isn’t actually a shift. Reagan and many, many others were criminal in how passive and apologetic they were towards South Africa’s brutally oppressive practices. They did not view Mandela in the same light as many others did (yes, including Gingrich) and, ultimately, history would. In fact, Gingrich openly called out Reagan on vetoing sanctions and other actions against apartheid-era SA.
BUT - we need to be careful not to paint this as some sort of strange corner of enlightenment bursting forth from the mind of Newt Gingrich, because it totally isn’t.
At first glance it’s easy to assume the opposite. After all, here’s a guy with a PhD! And he’s railing against all these Internet-happy pundits criticizing Mandela before his body’s even cooled!
But the fact is that this is actually more of a holdover of Gingrich’s strange, complicated, highly contentious, and outright contrarian relationship with Reagan than it is a brave statement in defense of one of the greatest men of the twentieth century.
Those “right on” moments in Gingrich’s crusade against Reagan, including his anti-apartheid stance and his scathing indictment of Reaganomics, are far outnumbered by instances where he thought the US under Reagan was too soft on the Soviet Union (seriously) and another where he compared Reagan’s summit with Gorbachev with Churchill’s appeasement of Adolf Hitler (SERIOUSLY).
Gingrich isn’t a great mind standing up for the old guard, he’s a broken clock that was right twice.
Trust me, I wish I could give Gingrich more credit on this, but I just can’t other than to simply say that outside the context of who said it, he’s right. But more to the point, critics of Mandela are, by and large, narrow-minded cowards.
But when it comes to Mandela, many of the things that these cranks and cowards are railing against they’re actually right about. They don’t like him because he actually WASN’T the man the mainstream media portrays him to be. They have a legitimate point there.
But that’s where they stop being correct.
The problem with the coverage of Mandela’s death is that it hasn’t been fair at all to his legacy. Over the last several decades, mainstream outlets have portrayed him as a figure akin to Gandhi, a man who thought good thoughts and intentions were enough and would win the day. In fact, the way recent news reports covering his death were written and delivered, you’d think his greatest act and accomplishment was being black and forgiving white people.
But Mandela’s greatest gift, and in fact his contribution, was that he WAS a fighter. He said no, fuck this, and struck back against an impossibly evil socio-political machine. He was more of a revolutionary than anyone wants to give him credit for, and that says more about the weakness of contemporary American intellectualism than it does about him.
But that’s a whole other rant.
LONG STORY SHORT: Gingrich is right, but not “right on!”. And Mandela was fucking great, but not because he “forgave” white South Africans for their bullshit.