December 9 2013
Etiquette Tips for the Mandela Funeral
President Obama is heading to South Africa to attend the funeral of Nelson Mandela, that nation’s first black president. And I have a message for our leader: This is not about you, Mr. President. Or it shouldn’t be, but of course with President Obama, everything is more or less about him.
Keith Koffler of White House Dossier said it best:
You know, Thursday I wrote that it was appropriate that Obama be a little self-referential in his statement on Mandela’s death, given that both are historic figures in the march toward racial equality.
Some of you called me on it, and while I still think it’s valid, you had a point. I took a closer look at the statement and noticed . . . there’s nothing it in about the United States.
Nothing like, On behalf of all Americans . . . The people the United States mourn the loss of . . . I mean, this isn’t a statement by the president; it’s a statement by some guy who is personally upset and wants to praise a leader who deeply affected him on his important lifetime journey.
Sometimes I think President Obama views all history as mere prelude to his election as president. The Founding Fathers and Nelson Mandela are all forerunners who made Barack Obama possible. But of course, Mandela made an impact on history other than being the first something. He did something other than talk a good game. The conservative Tribune Review points out something important about Mandela—unlike Barack Obama, he had the capacity to change:
But few care to recall — and virtually no editorials mentioned — that for most of his life, Mandela was not only a Marxist who revered Lenin and Stalin but also was a terrorist. He abandoned efforts for peaceful change in favor of guerrilla tactics and sabotage. And that's what led to his trial, conviction and life prison sentence in the 1960s.
He emerged from prison 27 years later as a changed man in a changed country. Mandela became South Africa's leader in its first free presidential election four years later, seeking unity instead of exacting revenge, and served a single term before retiring.
I can’t help being impressed that Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has cancelled his trip to the funeral, citing the high costs of such a trip, including security, at short notice. The Jerusalem Post reports:
The short-notice trip, combined with complex security arrangements due to the many participants expected at the memorial, have upped the costs of the trip, Israeli media reported.
A preliminary assessment showed such a trip would cost some NIS 7 million.
It is still unclear which Israeli representative will attend the ceremony in their stead
Israel finds herself alone in the world, and for Netanyahu the funeral was less likely to be a love fest. But it appears that Israel will send a representative and that they have a prime minister who considers the pocket book of his nation. As the Anglicans used to say, this is meet and right.
Of course, we want President Obama to represent us at this funeral and we don't mind spending the money on this trip (his and her planes to Hawaii—another matter). We recognize the symbolic importance. But it is refreshing for a leader to consider the cost of a trip and we hope that, as long as we’re picking up the tab, President Obama will remember that he represents the United States, not the other way around.