They could use a Mandela in Thailand, and just about everywhere else…even the U.S.

“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” is a longtime political maxim.

But that phrase doesn’t express quite the boldness of the concept “loving one’s enemy.”

Who does that?

Winners do. Mandela did.

When we mourn Mandela, we mourn a special politician, one who is able to transcend all that and become a true leader. We sure don’t live in a one-size-fits all world, but wouldn’t it be nice if Mandela could be cloned and dropped into certain situations, right now.


Thailand comes to mind, where an opposition leader is seeking to dump the current prime minister, but perhaps not with the grace or savvy of a Mandela. Compromise is needed, but how do you get to that point? Who is willing to blink first without having it seen as a sign of weakness?

In the U.S., we have moved from the government shutdown, to more health care battles, to the stalemate on immigration reform.

How do we get to compromise without self-destructing, or without sending the wrong message that only ends up nurturing divisiveness and alienation?

I’ve covered a lot of political situations from the president to the local dogcatcher. I never served in office, but I did serve on a parish pastoral council once. And it’s that experience that gives me an appreciation of Mandela and the kind of politics he practiced.

Whenever you build a new church, or a building and need to raise millions of dollars,  all kinds of politics gets in the way. City, neighborhood, parish.   I always knew how to fight for my own goals. But only in this instance did I realize that consensus was the real goal of any political fight.


It wasn’t my own sense, or my ego’s sense,  of what should be. It was the collective sense. The lesson came to me while trying to build that new church. But I think it could apply in building a new health care system, or a new government.

But you can’t get to that point without a change in the venal, macho politics we tend to see these days. Getting to the political promise land starts with not just understanding your enemy, but seeing yourself in them too.

People want to win. But to win, you need to get to that special place. Compromise? Call it what you will. It’s the place where we’re all winners.

Mandela knew how to get there. He knew what to give up. And he knew what would give him standing.

Twenty-seven years in prison does a lot for your credibility. And when you lead with love, people will follow.

We now have ten days of mourning. Make way for the flood of memories.

Some will want to rewrite history. But the facts remain the facts.

Apartheid is apartheid, and Mandella gave up 27 years of his life.

For too long, the U.S. stood intractably in favor of its Cold War ally, South Africa. Despite apartheid, despite Mandela, there was no movement. For too long, President Reagan wouldn’t budge. The U.S. was on the side of the repressive, tyrannical government that kept alive apartheid.

It was Mandela who was the human face for the fight for racial justice worldwide.

In the U.S., not even Reagan could stop the call for sanctions in South Africa.

Reagan did veto sanctions in 1986, even after a South Africa displayed how violent and brutal the government could  with 2000 killed and 30,000 imprisoned.

But current Republicans should playback the history.  The compassionless GOP was full of it back then. Even conservatives in the Senate joined in with Democrats to override Reagan’s and pass the 1986 Sanctions Act by a 78-21 vote.

Mandela had that kind of power—the power to move people’s conscience.

We sure could use that kind of leadership today.







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