- Posted January 10, 2014 by
Watertown, New York
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Will Obama's "Mandela Memorial Speech" Refocus Him and the U.S. On Our Own Apartheid?
Senator Paul Tsongas (D–Mass.) disagreed with the Reagan Administration's passive approach on Apartheid in South Africa.
That statement was in 1986. Three decades later, it is still true.
Reagan urged Congress not to give in to emotional appeals for action. Reagan's newly appointed assistant secretary for African affairs, Chester Crocker, argued for an approach he optimistically dubbed "constructive engagement:
"We continue to suffer from an inflated notion of American power despite considerable contrary evidence … since the power to coerce Pretoria is not in American hands, the limited influence available should be carefully husbanded for specific application to concrete issues of change ... If that means that the United States becomes engaged in what some observers label as only 'amelioration,' so be it ..."
Amelioration? The word means to make something better. Sometimes, what exists can’t be “made better”. It needs to be discarded for a better way.
"Under considerable pressure, Republican moderates rallied. Thirty-seven out of 53 Republican senators joined their Democratic colleagues to pass the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act over Reagan's veto.
Conservatives fumed, but they were powerless to stop the law from passing. It was the first time in the 20th century that a presidential veto on a foreign policy issue had been overturned.
President Obama spoke at Nelson Mandela’s memorial about the life of a man that had brought about the most profound changes to South Africa in history.
If you’ve seen the recent movie, “Mandela- A Long Walk to Freedom”, for this writer, it parallels the time we live in now in America. Mandela’s and South African’s fight for freedom was not and is not unlike the fight we have in America for economic freedom for the middle class.
The economic walls that separate the middle class are not merely physical, although they might as well be. The barriers to upward mobility for those in the 99% are insidiously subtle and designed to keep an economy that continues to benefit those who can afford to fund the rule makers.
‘Constructive engagement’ as Reagan had referred to his approach to addressing Apartheid in South Africa, is a cowardly, self-interest attempt to justify that which is immoral. The concept is not new and has been used throughout our history of Foreign Policy to justify the overthrow of democratically elected governments, and recently, the use of NSA intelligence to help police and Homeland Security disperse Occupy Wall Street in an attempt to marginalize righteous outrage and protest about our own economic apartheid in America.
“Ronald Reagan was angry. It was October 1986, and his veto against the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act had just been overridden — and by a Republican-controlled Senate, at that.”
He had appeared on TV a month earlier to warn Americans against the Anti-Apartheid Act, decrying it as "immoral" and "utterly repugnant." Congress disagreed, and one month later, it produced the two-thirds majority needed to override Reagan and pass tough new measures against South Africa's apartheid government.
These measures included a ban on bank loans and new investments in South Africa, a sharp reduction of imports, and prevented most South African officials from traveling to the United States. The Act also called for the repeal of apartheid laws and the release of political prisoners like African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela, who had spent the last 23 years in prison.”
“Republican moderates deserve credit for having the courage to go against Reagan in passing the Anti-Apartheid Act. Though denounced by conservatives for their actions, they held firm. As a result, the United States directly contributed to the liberation of millions of people from one of the world's most oppressive regimes.”
Reagan issued a tersely worded response:
"I deeply regret that Congress has seen fit to override my veto of the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986. Punitive sanctions, I believe, are not the best course of action; they hurt the very people they are intended to help ... This will not solve the serious problems that plague that country."
But he was wrong.”
Back in the Senate, Edward Kennedy chastised Republicans for Reagan's actions:
"The Republican Party is at a crossroads. It must decide whether it wants to be the party of Lincoln or the party of apartheid."
This is the question that Republicans need to ask themselves today. Do they want to be seen as the party of Lincoln? Or stand with the moneyed interests that continue the middle class’s struggles for economic reform and opportunity?
It is difficult to fully comprehend the evils of apartheid in South Africa today. But, apartheid in the World, never died. Advocates of apartheid have just become more subtle at implementing their divisive policies.
“Blacks were denied citizenship and the right to vote. They were forcibly relocated into impoverished reservations. People of color were barred from operating businesses or owning land inside white areas, which comprised most of the country. Sexual relations or marriage between people of color and whites was strictly forbidden. Racial segregation was enforced in public areas, including schools, hospitals, trains, beaches, bridges, churches and theaters. To enforce apartheid, the government often resorted to police brutality, the imprisonment and assassination of political dissidents, and the murder of black protesters.”
In South Africa and America, Blacks are no longer denied citizenship. But they are still forced to live in impoverished conditions because of the rules and laws that limit their access to capital and education.
Apartheid and those that support economic segregation have become better at not being as obvious in their pursuit of the same goals that have plagued mankind for centuries. No one is better than another because of the amount of money you have in your wallet.
Many conservatives have claimed that President Obama is the Progressive’s Jesus. He’s not.
But maybe we should see Obama more like Moses. Moses was able to get the Jews to the Promised Land but was not allowed by God to cross the Jordan River himself.
Obama may not be able to accomplish all he would like during his Presidency but he can set the stage for the next Democratic President to take us across the finish line into a more egalitarian society.
Let’s hope that President Obama refocuses on what he can accomplish with an obstructionist GOP House of Representatives who support economic apartheid for the United States.
Of course, we can always hope that moderate Republicans will break with the Tea Party and vote for economic opportunity for the middle class with Democrats this year as they did against Reagan in 1986.
“The Surprising Republican Civil War That Erupted Over Nelson Mandela and Apartheid” by Sagar Jethani