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December 10, 2013 8:24 am

Cheney’s votes, stance on Mandela remain complex issue today

Written by Tom Lawrence

Dick Cheney was tone-deaf and battling the tide of history when he voted against supporting an effort to free Nelson Mandela from prison in 1986.

Or so his critics believe.

Cheney was right when he defended that vote during two presidential elections when he was the Republican vice-presidential candidate.

Or so his supporters claim.

In some ways, both may be right. Let’s look back at Cheney’s vote and statements in light of the death of Mandela, the South African rebel turned leader who served 27 years in prison for opposing the racist apartheid system but emerged as a world icon.

In 1986, Cheney was Wyoming’s congressman, a leading voice in the Republican conservative movement. When a resolution was introduced in Congress that called for South Africa to release Mandela, while also placing sanctions on the nation and travel restrictions on its citizens and leaders, Cheney both spoke and voted against it.

The bill still passed both houses of Congress before President Ronald Reagan, fixated on Cold War politics and well aware of our trading partnership with South Africa, vetoed it. Reagan said the African National Congress (ANC), which was the leading anti-apartheid group, was a “terrorist organization” with communist ties.

It was a highly divisive issue, and came on the heels on the battle over making Martin Luther King Day a national holiday, a matter that had divided liberals and conservatives.

After Reagan vetoed the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act, dozens of Republicans joined Democrats to overturn the president’s rejection of it, with Cheney again voting on the losing side. It became law on Oct. 2, 1986. The sanctions remained in place until 1991, after Mandela was released and South Africa finally began to wipe the stain of government-imposed racism from its laws and practices.

Cheney was forced to defend his votes during both the 2000 and 2004 campaigns. In 2000, during an interview, he typically did not second-guess himself.

“The ANC was then viewed as a terrorist organization,” Cheney said on ABC’s “This Week.” “I don’t have any problems at all with the vote I cast 20 years ago.”

That comment resurfaced after Mandela died at 95 on Thursday. It was used against Cheney in several columns and blog posts, and it did seem damning. But it’s worthwhile to look at the entire comment.

Cheney said Mandela was a “great man” who had mellowed in prison and become a true leader for his nation and all its people. That is now the accepted story of Mandela’s path in life, as even he admitted he emerged from prison a changed and better man.

“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison,” Mandela wrote of his release. He even invited his primary prison guard to his presidential inauguration.

His imprisonment, in which he was denied basic human rights, made to labor in inhumane conditions and forced to live in a cramped cell with a bulb burning 24 hours a day, was a horrid chapter in South African and world history. Cheney was wrong to oppose efforts to free Mandela.

But he was correct, at least in part, to state that the ANC had done some terrible things during a long, painful, bloody period in South African history. And Mandela and some of its leaders had questionable tastes in friends, supporting Fidel Castro, Muammar Gaddafi and Yasser Arafat.

However, it’s clear that the Mandela who emerged on the world stage, who helped bring peace and a much-improved racial climate to his country, who became an icon of forgiveness, was a far better and greater man than the fiery freedom fighter who was placed in custody. That is to his enduring credit.

Nelson Mandela left his nation, and the world, a far better place, and his name and legacy will long be honored.

1 Comment

  • Comment Link December 10, 2013 8:42 am posted by Salty Dawg

    Cheney could not pack Mandela's lunch box,or anyone else's for that matter.

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