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In the Age of Whatever Works

Latin America faces a crucial choice between liberty and tyranny, as always, just like the rest of us, and the President of the United States’ advice is that it go with “whatever works.” Barack Obama actually said that nonsense in a speech to the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative while on his recent south-of-the-border tour, and although that also included him doing the wave at a baseball game with the communist dictator of Cuba and embarrassingly doing the tango for his Peronista variety of fascist hosts in Argentina while the capital of the European Union reeled from yet another terror attack it was probably the low point of that disastrous vacation.
Any President of the United States worthy of that once-august office would be making the plain case that liberty is the only thing that has ever worked in the entire history of organized humankind, and that tyranny has never worked out, but these days that is apparently too much to ask for. The runaway winner of five of the last six state contests in the Democratic nominating process is the self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who worries that there are too many kinds of deodorants on America’s supermarket shelves and prescribes the same solutions that have resulted in toilet paper shortages in Venezuela, and the party’s putative front-runner struggles to explain why she’s not a socialist. Meanwhile, the putative Republican front-runner is issuing threats that his press critics will “have problems, such problems” and “tweeting” like a South American caudillo and promising nothing but “better deals” with all these pesky foreigners, which sounds to us like pretty much like the equivalent of “whatever works.”
The sole remaining long-shot possibility for the leadership of what was once called the free world is Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, whose much criticized father endured the tortures of the same communist Cuban dictatorship that the “whatever works” president was doing the wave with, and went on to a formidable career and as a legal and Senatorial advocate for the conservative cause, and he strikes us as a full-throated advocate of liberty and the Judeo-Christian tradition and red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism and other higher values than whatever might work. He’s bogged down with a report in the front-runner’s buddy’s National Enquirer, though, and is just within the margin-of-error in the polls in the important states of Wisconsin and California. We’d love to see a match-up of Cruz’ hard-edged advocacy of capitalism and constitutionalism against Sanders’ unabashed socialism and whatever works, but such stark choices are perhaps too much to wish for in an age when people are more concerned with whatever works for them, if not necessarily everyone else.

— Bud Norman

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Nelson Mandela, RIP

Former South African President Nelson Mandela died Friday at the age of 95, and he will be missed by all. The left will forever honor him for all he did to bring down his country’s racist apartheid regime, and the right will always admire him for the things he didn’t do after he gained power.
Most of the adulatory obituaries will stress Mandela’s actions against apartheid, which is understandable. The system of minority rule by the country’s European conquerors was outrageously unfair in its conception, unimaginably brutal in its enforcement, and entirely catastrophic in its results, while Mandela’s heroic opposition entailed 27 years of imprisonment and countless acts of physical and moral courage. It’s a story much loved by the left, which even now uses it to criticize the right for its alleged support of apartheid, but it’s less important and inspiring than what happened after apartheid was toppled and Mandela became his country’s first black president.
Among its other flaws the left’s favored narrative misstates the right’s position on apartheid during the time of Mandela’s struggle. While it is true that President Ronald Reagan opposed the left’s campaign to impose economic sanctions on the apartheid regime, and vetoed a bill that would have barred trade with South Africa, it was not because of an affinity for the system. Reagan publicly denounced apartheid as “morally wrong and politically unacceptable,” and applied much diplomatic effort to end it, but also argued that sanctions would impose more pain on the country’s black citizens than on the government that was oppressing them. The claim remains improvable, but neither can it be disproved, and liberals should take notice that the Obama administration is now making much the same argument for easing sanctions on an equally deplorable Iranian regime.
Conservatives were also cautious about what might happen in a post-apartheid South Africa, and not without reason. Mandela was a self-described communist, so there were legitimate concerns that his ascendancy to power in Africa’s economic powerhouse might tilt the balance of power toward a Soviet Union that was oppressing many millions more people behind the Iron Curtain. His wife was a mean piece of work who had participated in the sadistic killings of black rivals to Mandela’s African National Congress, and the ethnic rivalries within the black population that had long pre-dated the arrival of the Europeans seemed ready to explode in the absence of an authoritarian government. The record of black rule in post-colonial Africa was bleak, with economic devastation and mass starvation and brutal inter-tribal warfare the usual outcome, and there was little cause for hope that the outcome in South Africa would prove an exception to the rule. It was hard to imagine that anything might be worse than apartheid, but the conservative temperament is ever mindful that it was hard to imagine what could be worse than Czarist Russia, Bautista’s Cuba, or the Shah’s Iran, and that the Russians, Cubans, and Iranians all subsequently found out.
That the conservatives’ most dire predictions never came to pass is the most impressive part of Mandela’s story, but of less value for the liberals’ propaganda purposes. To the disappointment of leftists everywhere Mandela did not align the country with the Soviet Union, helping the Cold War come to a successful conclusion a short time later, nor did he impose the Afro-Marxist reforms that had made an economic basket case of the rest of sub-Saharan Africa in the post-colonial era, and with international sanctions lifted his country’s economy survived his more modest efforts. Mandela also proved a true Democrat, modestly declining the opportunity to assume the dictatorial powers that other African revolutionaries had killed for, joining Cincinnatus of ancient Rome and George Washington of early America as one of the few men in history to do so. Perhaps more importantly, Mandela rejected the race-conscious identity politics of the western left and stressed a commonality of man that began with forgiveness for the whites who had treated him so harshly, avoiding the mass killings of retribution that had brought so much misery to other African states. Perhaps it was pragmatism rather than principle, and based on the logical conclusion that killing all the white people in a land that had so long denied educational opportunities to its black people would have unhappy economic consequences for the surviving blacks, but in any case it worked.
South Africa did not become paradise under Mandela’s leadership. Lifting the heavy hand of apartheid unleashed a wave of murder and violence that has at times reduced South Africa to a Hobbesian state of nature, the economy remains a success only by the rock-bottom standards of South Africa, and all the manifest failings of human nature are as evident there as anywhere else. Still, it could have been worse. To see how much worse it might have been without Mandela one need only next door to Zimbabwe, where Robert Mugabe took over in the former apartheid country of Rhodesia and promptly proved all the conservatives’ predictions true. Mugabe was also a hero of the international left when he came to power, but neither the left nor the rest of the world will ever honor his name as it does Mandela’s.

— Bud Norman